Designing and Testing Evaluation Tools to Inform Foundation Education Reforms and Build Grantee Capacity

WCER Working Paper No. 2010-1

Steven M. Kimball, Rachel Lander, Christopher A. Thorn, with Katie Herrem

January 2010, 63 pp.

ABSTRACT: This paper reports on results from the pilot test of evaluation guidelines and related tools from the comprehensive evaluation of education grant-making by The Chicago Community Trust conducted by researchers at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. Prior evaluation on the project work uncovered the need for more uniform evaluation guidelines and reporting tools to help grantees tailor projects to the foundation’s priorities, and help the foundation assess the impact of their diverse grant activities. In the absence of such tools, the individual grantees produced reports of varying quality from which it was hard to assess impacts and synthesize results. The old tools were designed to apply to multiple organizations with projects at different life cycle stages, and yield both process and findings uses. This paper reviews the evaluation activities that led to the development of the new guidelines, and the results from the pilot study of the guidelines conducted by the WCER evaluation team. Key findings were that using the new guidelines and related supports, grantees were able to generate more focused evaluations, monitor and learn from program activities, and perceive more accountability for results. There was some confusion over project life cycle determinations and variation in the attention to analytical methods among grantees, which complicated attempts to synthesize results. Implications for evaluation guidelines use and grantee support are discussed.

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keywords: Program Evaluation; Foundations; Evaluation Guidelines