Lagom is the Swedish concept of balance. Loosely translated, it means “not too little, not too much, but just enough”. Often applied to lifestyle, it represents the art of living a balanced, slower, fuss-free life. I’d now like to apply it to evaluation. Doing evaluation well is often about getting that balance; not too little data that you don’t get any insights, but not so much that you’re reinventing the wheel, collecting evidence we already have, annoying everyone with endless questionnaires, and collecting far more than you have time to analyse or to learn from.
Last week we published our new guide on evaluation: Understanding Impact: How to use your theory of change to develop a measurement and evaluation framework (check out my twitter video!). Understanding Impact builds on our Theory of Change in Ten Steps published last October. We unpack how to develop an evaluation framework, based on what you already know from existing evidence, and what your key information needs are.
We’ve drawn on NPC’s previous papers, including our 2014 Four Pillars approach and our 2016 guidance on Proportionate evaluation, and we’ve distilled our latest advice based on our experience of supporting numerous charities and funders of all sizes and across a multitude of social issues. We’ve written our new guide with smaller service delivery charities in mind, but the principles apply to other missions such as campaigning, and more complex contexts such as shared measurement.
A clear approach to evaluation
A common theme in our guide is taking a structured approach, such as deciding data collection based on your theory of change, and what your key research questions are. This lays the ground for taking a balanced path, which is fundamental. All too often we find organisations are drowning in data collection, or in data requests from colleagues and funders.
Our approach, which really spells out the questions you can expect to answer with five different types of data, helps you prioritise what’s most important and explain your rationale to others to help justify evaluation initiatives to busy colleagues, or influence reporting commitments to funders. We want you to have enough data to be able to learn from your work, and to be able to share that learning with others. However, we don’t want you to have to reprove your model if there’s already lots of evidence for it, or to put in place so much data collection that the whole thing falls down because it’s too onerous, or there’s too much information to be used sensibly.
A DIY framework
While I’m on the Swedish theme, our guide aims, like IKEA, to let you build your own self-evaluation practice sustainably, rather than relying on external evaluators. We hope this will be especially empowering for smaller charities.
So I hope you find our new evaluation guide useful. Bring Lagom into your evaluation practice and let us know how it goes!