Evaluating Impact

Over the last twenty years people interested in building strong communities have been making an important shift. Eager to “move the needle” on our quality of life issues, they are experimenting with new ways to create mutually reinforcing community-wide strategies that yield big changes as opposed to hoping that the individual efforts of organizations and services end up being more than the sum of their parts.  This new approach to community change requires a different way to evaluate.

Conventional evaluation techniques typically focus on discrete programs and services and are carried out by external experts.  Evaluation practices from the private sector are narrowly concerned with “operational” and “return on investment” of their organization rather than the perspective of outcomes for the entire community. Neither is suitable for the scale and complexity of community impact. Both have a tendency to approach evaluation as a mechanical exercise in accountability rather than a process of community learning. After many iterations of trying to “do the old stuff on steroids”, the field of change-makers is self-correcting. We are experimenting with new ways of measuring change, exploring who is responsible for outcomes, developing methods that can keep up with the fast-moving pace of community change activities, alternative approaches for getting change makers involved in the actual assessment process, and using the results to drive new thinking, better strategies and deeper impact.


Evaluating Community Impact

Featured Resources

Getting Started

Evaluations That People Use

Developing Evaluations that Are Used

By Tamarack Institute

Evaluation findings, if used at all, are usually one piece of the decision making pie, not the whole pie. Rhetoric about "data-based decision making" and "evidence-based practice" can give the impression that one simply looks at evaluation results and a straightforward decision follows. Erase that image from your mind. That is seldom, if ever, the case.


Evaluating Collective Impact: Five Simple Rules

By Mark Cabaj

Since the 1960s, the field of evaluation has struggled to develop concepts and methods that are useful for the complex work of community change. The ambitious nature of the latest iteration of community change approaches, Collective Impact, amplifies this challenge. This article describes five simple rules that have emerged out of 50 years of trial and error that can assist participants, funders, and evaluators of Collective Impact initiatives to track their progress and make sense of their efforts. 

Taking It Further

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Network Mapping: At A Glance

By Robyn Kalda, Peggy Schultz, Suzanne Schwenger & Health Nexus

This tool will help groups look at how they are working together now, and how they might work together even more effectively to reach their specified goals.  This tool will help you to visualize and explore relationships within your group so that you are able to identify potential relationships, and strengthen your existing group. 

Most Significant Change

Most Significant Change

By Tamarack Institute

This tool will help guide you through the Most Significant Change process.  This technique is a form of participatory monitoring and evaluation. It is participatory because many project stakeholders are involved both in deciding the sorts of change to be recorded and in analyzing the data. It is a form of monitoring because it occurs throughout the program cycle and provides information to help people manage the program.

Explore by Theme

Principles Focused Evaluation Banner

Principles-Focused Evaluation

Many social innovators working on complex issues are driven by principles, as much as theories of change and plans. In fact, principles are often included as a central part of the strategy. Despite the importance of principles in social innovation, there has been little guidance on how to evaluate their meaningfulness, application and usefulness on the ground. Until now. Principles-Focused Evaluation, is the latest contribution from Michael Quinn Patton, and is designed to address this gap. Principles-focused evaluation is a game-changer for social innovators, evaluators, policy makers and funders who are interested in making – and evaluating – progress on the tough economic, social and environmental challenges of our time.


Evaluating Systems ChangeEvaluating Systems Change

Community builders eager to make progress on complex issues must move beyond projects and programs and seek instead to change the systems that underlie the challenges. To support changemakers and the evolving field of evaluation,Tamarack is devoting the second half of 2018 to explore two important developments in the emerging field of systems evaluation. These include: (a) how to plan an evaluation of systems change and (b) some emerging methodologies for evaluating systems change.



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Evaluation for Transformative Change

Virtual Workshop | April 20, 22, 27, & 29, 2021

Transforming evaluation for evaluating transformation examines the contributions that evaluation can make to addressing crises like the coronavirus pandemic, the global climate emergency, and related threats to human survival looming large in Earth’s future.

Learn More & Register