Evaluation as a Strategy for Growth

Storyteller:

Catharine Chamberlain
Erin Mills Connects
Storyteller's Picture

Erin Mills Connects (EMC) is a community organization founded in 2016 that addresses the needs of children, youth and families in the Erin Mills area of the city of Mississauga. The collaborative offers a variety of events and programs to foster connectedness, respect and inclusiveness within its community.

Work is guided by a steering committee which includes a core team of dedicated volunteers who represent partner organizations mainly from the education and public health sectors along with several nonprofits that serve immigrants and youth.

According to Catharine Chamberlain, an administrator of the organization, Erin Mills Connects was clear from its inception that evaluating offerings would be vital, not only for funders but also to ensure continued buy-in from collaborative partners.

EMC had initially completed work in 2017 toward setting priorities and identifying outcomes. Following this foundational piece, the group wanted PREP to help identify its and use of qualitative and quantitative data to seek additional funding and partnerships. The PREP team suggested the co-creation of an evaluation framework that would highlight the questions of interest to the collaborative along with corresponding indicators and a data collection strategy.

In addition to sharpening exit survey questions at workshops to align with EMC’s desired outcomes, PREP suggested it consider holding focus groups as a vehicle for collecting these perspectives. As a result, EMC plans to reach out in the next school year to parent and student groups in Erin Mills. Catharine is particularly interested in hearing from youth who have participated in EMC’s mindfulness program, called Beautiful Mind. She noted that EMC has already responded to older teens’ request to expand their social and emotional skillset by introducing the evidence-informed program Healthy Relationships Plus . “Those young people who have been through this program have a lot of good ideas. We want their feedback on how we can do this better.”

A big ‘aha moment’ for EMC’s evaluation subcommittee came when members learned about how defining what they wanted to achieve and aligning their measurement to match could help attract future funding. Overtime, EMC would know who supports its mission long-term, added Catharine.

Useful evaluation is also seen as a way of strengthening the collaborative. “We need to be mindful,” she states, “of tying the respective partner resources together so they are amplified with each other in consultation with community.” Impact measurement can demonstrate the extent to which this is happening.

Catharine also recognizes that evaluation needs will alter over time as EMC responds to changing governmental priorities and community needs. Meeting an organization where it is at rather than forcing a standardized approach was a benefit Catharine appreciated with PREP. “The length of engagement and amount of information was just enough for us.” Too much information, she says, would have led to overwhelm for the committee. She reports that having a framework for overall evaluation is more important than having all of the details worked out at this stage, citing that having too detailed an evaluation plan means EMC could risk acting on things that were not relevant anymore. “With the plan we’ve got in place now, we can go forward with the priorities and try them out.”