Giving Compass' Take:

• Zena Sharman and Julia Langton break down the do's and don'ts of connecting strategy and evaluation to help guide foundations.

• Is your organization already following these practices? Could you better balance your strategy and evaluation? 

• Learn how evaluations can support systems change

For organizations, strategy is about understanding who you are, what contexts you’re working in, where you want to go (your overall goals or aims) and how you’re going to get there. But strategy is a compass, not a map. Designing and implementing strategy is a process of sense-making filled with educated guesses, experimentation, learning and adaptation.

Evaluation is also a way of making sense of things, but from a very different perspective. Evaluation is the systematic assessment of the design, implementation or results of an initiative and is a key component of learning and decision-making, and therefore strategy. But evaluating complex and evolving concepts such as an organizational strategy can be challenging, which is where methods such as developmental and participatory evaluation are important. They help us learn as we go and involve the right people in interpreting evaluation results in order to transform them into recommendations for action (it’s important that evaluators not do this in isolation!).

Strategy and evaluation both require us to consider past, present and future simultaneously, but from very different vantage points. Integrating these perspectives — the broad and the specific — can be challenging. But connecting the two can also be hugely valuable. While strategy provides our compass, evaluation helps us define what success looks like and set up a plan to track our progress and learn along the way.

As we develop our new organizational strategic plan (our current one comes to an end in 2019), we’re reflecting on what we’ve learned so far from our evaluation activities, and working closely to build evaluation into both the development and implementation of the strategy right from the start.

Regardless of what stage of the strategy and evaluation journey you’re at, we’ve developed some do’s and don’ts for connecting evaluation and strategy from what we’ve learned so far.

  • Build integrated teams with a core group of in-house strategy and evaluation experts.
  • Grow knowledge and capacity across your organization, and cultivate champions.
  • Strike the right balance between strategy and evaluation.
  • Learn from others with similar experiences and challenges.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment or make mistakes.
  • Don’t leave it to gather dust on a shelf.
  • Don’t make it overly complicated, mysterious or overly technical.

Read the full article about connecting strategy and evaluation by Zena Sharman and Julia Langton at Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.