In our experience, the best learning occurs when funders set parameters and offer thoughtful input, yet hand the measurement reins to the people whose daily work will benefit from the information sought. With support of external experts (or internal measurement staff), an organization can design a realistic and effective external evaluation, or a plan to gather and analyze data on their own programs.

This approach ensures that data and analysis not only gets produced, but also that it answers the most mission-critical questions. That’s because staff is more likely to embrace the evaluation opportunity when the questions asked and the data gathered are truly aimed at supporting their work, rather than merely being boxes to check.

This flexibility to custom-design an evaluation or measurement plan is important in any social change endeavor, but it’s especially crucial in the policy-advocacy arena in which we both work as evaluators and measurement consultants.

Even extremely well-conceived advocacy campaigns or program plans can run into myriad challenges when implemented, due to changes in policy and policymakers, changes in the larger social environment, evolution in funders’ outlooks, and the emergence of new allies and partners, to name just a few. Where flexible evaluation or measurement funding is offered, advocates can better test assumptions, engage in experimentation, course correct, play to their own strengths, adjust to new conditions, or take advantage of any strategic openings that emerge.

At the outset of any evaluation, it’s important for policy strategists and implementers to zero in on powerful questions that get to the heart of what they seek to accomplish — and how they can most effectively get there. Sometimes that’s just one critical question that the organization hasn’t been able to identify or solve; other times it’s several questions about the rollout of a new strategic direction.

Read the full article about grantee-led evaluation by David Shorr and Kathleen Sullivan at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.