Learning and Evaluation
Evaluation is sometimes seen as a backward-looking exercise, in which an evaluator designs a study to determine what outcomes a program has achieved. While such studies can be very useful, they are just one type of evaluation, focusing on the assessment stage of a standard project cycle. Assessment is actually the last of three equally important stages, beginning with planning and continuing through implementation.
At the Endowment, we attempt to apply evaluative thinking and tools to all stages of the project cycle. For example, our grant application process guides grantseekers to identify the results they will work toward, and then to commit to specific ways of measuring whether those results were achieved.
Evaluation during the implementation stage may include progress reports by grantees and site visits by Endowment staff. For major projects, we also may contract with external consultants to provide grantees with the information and support they need to track how their project is unfolding and to make mid-course corrections.
Finally, every grant undergoes an end-of-project assessment that examines accomplishments against planned results. When appropriate, formal evaluations may be commissioned to assess outcomes compared to what would have happened without the program.
Focusing Externally and Internally
The Endowment has a role in ensuring the effectiveness of the outside organizations implementing the programs we fund. Evaluation resources are appropriately directed at these external projects. But our work also includes planning, implementing and assessing our own overall grantmaking strategies, which may encompass many individual projects and continue over many years. Responsible use of our resources requires that Trustees and staff regularly re-examine these grantmaking strategies to see that they remain grounded in our founder’s Indenture of Trust but are also relevant to the changing contexts of the people and institutions of North Carolina and South Carolina.
The Duke Endowment’s Six Guiding Principles for Evaluation
- Evaluation is integrated into all of our grantmaking. It touches planning, implementation and assessment and focuses both externally and internally.
- Our focus is on evaluation as a tool for learning. We also recognize the importance of accountability and improving performance.
- To ensure that results are used for learning, evaluation must be conducted in an open spirit of inquiry, and results must be communicated widely.
- We use a mix of evaluation methods. For evaluations of grantee projects, method choice follows evaluation purpose, which follows purpose of the project.
- To avoid undue burdens on grantees and inappropriate use of resources, we will measure only what we will use, and use everything that we measure.
- Whenever appropriate, evaluations should be participatory and grantee-controlled.
The Duke Endowment commissions evaluations for several reasons. We sometimes support evaluations as an integral part of an overall grantmaking strategy for an area of work. For example, evaluations of innovative technologies or programs may help build evidence about what works or expand the range of effective interventions available to a field.
Evaluations may also be commissioned as a way of enhancing the impact of important initiatives. Such evaluations are focused on gathering data as a program is implemented, facilitating learning and continuous quality improvement.
In this section, you can access reports on evaluations commissioned or supported by the Endowment as well as those focused on supported programs, even if funded by another source. By providing access to this material, we hope to highlight evidence for the impact of successful programs and also share lessons learned.