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Simple Questions:  A new framework for a sustainable, human-centred evaluation culture

Published: 28/10/20 | Categories: Author: Mike Corcoran

Mike Corcoran, Evaluation Specialist with Co-Production Network for Wales, introduces WCVA’s new ‘Simple Questions’ Evaluation Framework.

Evaluation is hard.

 

It is hard when time is limited, and resources are overstretched.

It is hard when there seems to be no way to choose between a wealth of competing options.

It is hard when the gulf between theory and practice seems intractable.

It is hard to know where to start.

 

All of these challenges carry with them great risks.

When under pressure and at a loss for what to do next, we can find ourselves resorting to ‘the way we’ve always done it’, or worse still, kicking the can down the road. We can lose sight of the underlying reasons why we are evaluating, merely going through the motions, and crucially, lose sight of the impact that our evaluation (or lack of it) may be having on the people we support.

Our solution – reconnect with the simple questions that lie at the heart of evaluation – our Simple Questions evaluation framework.

First and foremost, evaluation is about developing a deeper understanding of what we do so that we can do it better. Whilst the production of rigorous data sets, independent studies and formal reports may all be part of this story, they should not be the start of it. Evaluation should start with those simple and fundamental questions which we can ask ourselves, our colleagues and all of those who we support as we commission, design and deliver our services.

But what should those questions be, how many are there, and how often should we ask them? We propose beginning by thinking about four key things all evaluation should inform. Namely:

  1. Who we work with?
  2. What we do to support them?
  3. How our support impacts upon their lives?
  4. Why it is that we do it?

Coupled with that, we should reflect on five key things all good evaluation should involve:

  1. Taking stock: capturing what’s happening on the ground, right here, right now.
  2. Change: always challenging convention and facilitating learning and development.
  3. Reaching out: with a focus on making things better for everyone and always delivered with kindness and compassion.
  4. Self-care: safeguarding our own health and wellbeing, as well as that of others.
  5. Reflection: joining the dots between what’s in front of us and the bigger picture.

Put it all together and you have 20 combinations, and space for 20 simple questions to take the first step on your evaluation journey.

Below, we suggest what these 20 questions could be and one way of reflecting on them – a question a day over a 4-week repeating cycle – but the most important thing is that they’re asked routinely, and in a way which works for you, your organisation and the people you support.

 

WEEK 1: WHO WEEK 2: WHAT WEEK 3: HOW WEEK 4: WHY
STOCKTAKE

MONDAY

Who’s here? What’s happening? How did we

get here?

Why am I talking?
CHANGE

TUESDAY

Who’s not here? What matters

most?

How have things changed? Why not do something different?
REACH OUT WEDNESDAY Who can

I help?

What do

you want?

How are you? Why are you here?
SELF-CARE

THURSDAY

Who can

help me?

What do I want? How am I? Why am I here?
REFLECTION

FRIDAY

Who cares

about this?

What is the best thing that happened this week? How can we make tomorrow better than yesterday? Why are we

doing this?

WCVA’s ‘Simple Questions Evaluation Framework’

Begin by reflecting on these questions (and questions like them), by yourself, with your team, or with those you support. Ask them naturally and don’t worry too much about whether you’re ‘doing it right’. Next, experiment with the different ways in which each question can be asked. Sometimes use questions as private reflections, other times as agenda items in team meetings, and sometimes turn questions into full blown activities with diverse audiences – have fun with them.

After that, start to consider the underlying evaluation approaches each question aligns with – in asking your simple questions, you will be embracing aspects of Appreciative Inquiry, Action Learning, Most Significant Change, and more – use them as they gateway into these approaches, building your knowledge and expanding your practice organically over time. Finally, ensure structures are in place that allow all these questions to be asked routinely and continuously – and you will be well on the way to a new, sustainable, human-centred evaluation culture.

In May, we recommended the ‘7 Simple Questions’ which matter most in times of crisis. Our new resource now provides a detailed introduction to each of these, inclusive of suggestions for the ways in which each may be asked, the evaluation approaches each aligns with, and the reliable sources of guidance and information which help these approaches to be put into practice. Over the coming months, this resource will be expanded, providing detailed guidance and case studies to support the implementation of all 20 of our Simple Questions. Sign up to the Inspiring Impact Newsletter for the latest updates.

Which of our simple questions stands out for you? Share your thoughts by following us on Twitter, using the hashtag #SimpleQuestions.

Mike Corcoran works with organisations across Wales and around the world as an advisor on engagement and impact. He is a long-term associate of the Co-production Network for Wales and led the development of the Network’s ‘Measuring What Matters’ evaluation tool and WCVA’s ‘Simple Questions’ evaluation framework.