Vita Centre runs programs for pregnant and parenting youth. They run five projects that are quite integrated as they share common goals and common clientele. Director of Operations Tanya Pereira and Program Manager Susan Robins saw the need for an evaluation that would show funders the impact of their work.
Knowing that it’s important to do an evaluation is one thing; putting aside the time and resources to plan for it and do it, is another. Agreeing to do the work with PREP, Tanya says, meant they had to prioritize the work and stick to timelines. Having to be accountable for doing their part of the work helped them move forward on an evaluation plan in a timely way.
Unsure of what approach would be suggested, they were happy when the PREP team suggested using an appreciative inquiry approach that would focus on what they were doing well and how they can do better. They found this positive approach brought them together as a team and created buy-in for the work with board and staff.
Tanya says, “This work with PREP came at such an important time for us. We were undergoing changes in our funding and needed to make some decisions.”
In response to these needs, PREP developed a plan that would help them deliver a needs assessment to understand the stakeholder perspective on their challenge. From there they would work together to develop an evaluation plan and revised logic model.
In addition to these deliverables, PREP built capacity by providing a workshop on program evaluation with staff. Susan observed that this training helped her staff team connect the evaluation outcomes with their daily work. It would also prove to be helpful in showing the ‘why’ of evaluation activities when it came to collecting data from clients during the evaluation itself.
Having the tools and planning in place to conduct an evaluation, Vita Centre took the brave next step and conducted their program evaluation.
Reflecting on their experience of delivering on an evaluation plan with PREP, three elements within the plan stood out to Susan and Tanya as new approaches that they hadn’t considered before.
The first of these was gathering stories about client impact. They found this was a valuable and impactful part of their evaluation activity. When shared as part of an evaluation report, these client stories also had a profound impact on members of the Vita Centre Board of Directors. Tanya says that hearing specific accounts of how Vita Centre makes a difference in their clients’ lives really helped to engage and inspire them.
The second new element was the way in which the plan incorporated the involvement of Vita’s Board of Directors in both the planning and delivery of the evaluation. Since the board hadn’t been involved at this level in previous evaluation and measurement initiatives, Tanya wasn’t sure how this would be received. She shared, however, that the board was highly engaged with the process throughout; and, in fact, several members of the board shared directly with her that they were happy to have been included in the process.
Finally, the evaluation plan included the element of using focus groups as a way of gathering qualitative data. Vita Centre had never gathered data in this way and was uncertain what it would yield. Susan reports that they followed through on this suggestion and were surprised at the rich data that came from it. Clients from different programs connected with each other in the sessions and shared their stories and experiences in a way that was unexpected.
Trusting in the plan and allowing the process to unfold yielded dividends for this leadership team and for Vita Centre as a whole.
“The information we get from this evaluation will be integral to our strategic planning… We are in a different place now. We can use the evaluation data to look at what our mandate is now and how it will shape our vision and mission going forward.”
This experience has also led Tanya to gain a new perspective on evaluation:
“As an ED, I have increased my confidence in evaluation. [Evaluation] is not meant to put a knock on the work you’re doing. It’s really to look at what you do well and how to do it better. Going in with this approach allowed me to focus on what we’re doing well.”
Tanya has also found that the overall experience has increased her confidence in talking to funders
“Recently, one of our major funders invited us to apply for some additional funding and as part of it asked us for our evaluation plan. We were so proud we could share our plan and tell them that an evaluation is actually happening right now. We think we’re ahead of the game in terms of the level of evaluation we can do now.”