I was scrolling through my Twitter timeline a few nights ago, and came across a tweet from the American Evaluation Association’s Twitter account, highlighting a blog post from program evaluator and research designer Dr. Molly Engle of Evaluation is an Everyday Activity. Dr. Engle focused on how she starts and ends her day with gratitude, and how that gratitude extends to her work in program evaluation. What stood out the most was this quote:
Doing evaluation just for the sake of evaluating, because it would be nice to know, is not the answer. Yes, it may be nice to know; [but] does it make a difference? Does the program (policy, performance, product, project, etc.) make a difference in the lives of the participants[?]
As I’ve mentioned before, conducting an evaluation can lead to insights into how well a program is performing and what can be improved. How valuable is this program in the lives of the individuals, families, and communities you work with?
I’ve been thinking of this a lot, and how it connects to the Reproductive Justice movement and its application of the framework. I try to incorporate a gender-focused, intersectional analysis in everything I do. However, I can’t figure out the onset, but I started to burn out from the RJ movement.
I don’t see myself leaving the RJ movement anytime soon, so I began searching for another entry point into the RJ movement of the traditional ways I’ve approached the work in the past. Program design and evaluation has been a way to reinvigorate my approach to RJ.
While it doesn’t sound as “sexy” or “trendy” as RJ has becomes more mainstream, evaluation incorporates my engagement skills as a social worker, and I’ve found a way in my business to assist organizations in thinking more critically on how they design programs and services, as they relate to social justice work. While it may not be as exciting as a rally, I use my evaluation skills to gauge how an organization thinks of their program, what assistance may be needed to realize their vision, what their perceived “wins” (expected outcomes) are, and what those actual outcomes are.
Going back to Dr. Engle’s quote, it got me to thinking: When an organization develops a program based on the RJ framework, what are the major similarities of RJ-based programs who receive funding from major donors or foundations? Do organizations evaluate RJ programs with the same criteria as other programs based on a completely different framework? There are plenty of theories out their related to program design and evaluation, with lots of evaluation tools to choose from. Are there are separate set of evaluation tools that we can use to evaluate RJ-based programs by, and are we evaluating these programs based on what funders deem as important, or rather what makes sense to the organization applying the RJ framework? If the evaluation tools don’t exist, what could they potentially look like?
I was recently selected as a fellow for CoreAlign’s Generative Fellowship program, where I will be meeting with a cohort of individuals from the reproductive health, rights, and justice movements to develop individual projects based on design thinking, a popular business framework from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business (and extremely similar to program design thinking). This will be my project for the next 6 months. I will be developing a strategy that will assist organizations on systematically developing, implementing, and evaluating RJ-based programming using tools that capture the essence of the RJ framework and the uniqueness of the organization, while making organizations look attractive to funders. I also want to study what organizations need to evaluate RJ-focused programming in ways that are accessible, impactful, and above all, useful. “But does this make a difference?” Do what the evaluation tools consist of even matter when developing RJ-based programs?
What will be involved in this strategy? I don’t know. I’ve thought of using several learning strategies: A curriculum, a toolkit, a webinar or video course, a checklist, a blueprint, a program design template, or even an ebook. What I do know is that it’ll be marketed to executive directors and program directors responsible for creating and implementing programs. I also know I want to market this to organizations who are entering RJ-based programming for the first time, as well as organizations who are seeking another way of doing things. I also want to look into funders such as the Groundswell Fund (in particular its Catalyst Fund) and Ms. Foundation to see what they consider as important elements of RJ-based programming.
By the time this process is over, there’s even the possibility that I’ve come up with a complete different focus! But one thing is certain: I want to have a clearly defined answer when someone asks, “But does it make a difference”? I’m looking forward to seeing how the process will unfold.