Evaluating Our Work
It is not possible to predict the future. Philanthropic interventions have consequences-both positive and negative-which often cannot be known at the time a grant is made. In order to learn and make better decisions in the future, we have to construct a feedback loop to help us know what happened.
We think of two types of feedback:
- feedback on a particular strategy
- feedback on how an organization does its work
The first asks, for example, "If girls in poor communities play organized sports after school, do their chances of graduating from high school increase?" The second category of feedback might ask, "How many girls participated in the Oakland Girls Play's two-year project to offer after-school sports for girls? What did their teachers say about how it influenced the girls' behavior?" These two approaches are sometimes known, respectively, as summative and formative evaluation.
- Summative evaluation (that is, doing an evaluation when the project is over) can be very useful, but can be expensive and often requires the help of trained social scientists.
- Formative evaluation (evaluations that are conducted while the project is still underway) can be useful for making tactical decisions and mid-course corrections.