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GMI World
A Publication of Global Mapping International

Serving Evangelical Ministry Leaders Around the World

Spring 2001


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Mission Views and News

Healthy organizations learn the benefits of appropriate ministry evaluation

A healthy tree is a living system sustained and energized by many forces and factors in its environment. Whether a tree is young or old, small or large, its life is conditioned by its root system. In much the same way, the health and vitality of an organization is determined by its ability to learn and change.

In a "learning organization," evaluation is integral to the cycle of envisioning, planning, and results management. The role of evaluation is to give leaders more informed advice about the worth of doing some things and not doing others, not only at the end of a program but also at the beginning of and during the process. In this model, evaluation is no longer evaluation as we have known it, that is, a specialized function outside of ordinary management. Instead, it is the ongoing measurement and review of ministry outcomes and processes.

The case for program evaluation has been made in countless books and articles by human service organizations and educational institutions. Yet in missions today, only relief and development agencies are making significant attempts at evaluation.

If program evaluation is so useful, why do so many ignore it? It simply doesn't fit the practical dynamics of organizational life. To the ministry leader who is "up to his waist in alligators," evaluation is just one more thing to do for which there are no funds and few donors. Even funders that mandate evaluation rarely underwrite the full cost of getting it done.

Unless ministry leaders see evaluation as the feedback loop to organizational learning that directly helps them to lead, they will never have time for it. The evaluation function needs to be redefined and reoriented.

Traditionally, program evaluation served mainly the external demands of donor agencies rather than internal demands for feedback and decision-making. Evaluations were designed to answer the donor's questions, which are often the wrong questions from the insider's point of view.

To make matters worse, evaluation took on the rigors of scientific inquiry effectively removing it from common sense management. It became the task of specialists with appropriate graduate education. This model of evaluation's role remains valid only if we think of it as a separate step outside the mainstream of organizational management and strategy planning.

Western business-oriented funders increasingly require more sophistication in evaluation, analysis, and reporting. Their questions are important. Unfortunately they don't always match the questions ministry leaders are asking.

If funders want to see ministries become proficient at evaluation they should approach it as a task of organizational capacity building. Helping ministries learn and practice the skills of results management is far more sustainable than treating evaluation as an isolated function. Does this mean that there is no place for specialized skills and separate departments of program evaluation? Should we become capacity builders rather than program evaluators?

To be sure, there will be a need for professional evaluators as long as there is need for organization development consultants. But evaluation of completed programs should never be a substitute for the ongoing disciplines of measurement, feedback, and review. These are essential skills of the learning organization.

Perhaps in the days to come, more healthy "learning organizations" will build evaluation into their normal organizational lives. And donors will no longer need to ask the wrong questions when insiders are already asking the right questions.

-by Daniel Rickett.

Daniel Rickett is the Director of Partner Development & Strategy for Partners International, Spokane, Washington, USA, providing consultation and specialized services to Two-Thirds World missions. Daniel has conducted program evaluations, facilitated intercultural partnerships, and guided organizational capacity building for over twenty years.

Daniel lives with his wife and daughter in Spokane, Washington, USA.

For more on this topic from Daniel Rickett:

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