Rape crisis centers, other sexual violence service providers, and community-based organizations often struggle to maintain adequate resources to serve their communities. When this is the case, it can feel difficult to earmark money for evaluation. However, evaluation is a critical and integral part of accountability and provision of effective, high quality services. Additionally, it’s still true that resources can be tight and that some funders, while requiring evaluation, impose restrictions on how much money can be spent on evaluation practice. Since evaluation comprises a spectrum of activities, it is possible to do meaningful evaluation of sexual violence prevention work on a minimal budget. The following tips can guide you in doing just that and, in the process, building capacity to do more robust evaluation when/if the resources allow.
- Consider partnering with colleges/universities. There are tricks to doing this well. Even if they can’t engage in a long-term partnership with your agency, professors or students from colleges or universities might be able to point you in the direction of existing tools and resources that are easy to access and easy to implement. They may also work with you to develop an evaluation plan for you to implement.
- Keep your scope small by focusing on the most critical questions. When you think about possible evaluation questions for your program, which ones rise to the top as the most critical to answer? Which questions, if answered, would provide the most actionable data – that, is, which answers will you clearly be able to act on in meaningful ways? Then consider the data sources that might help you answer those questions. Which important questions do you have the resources to answer? At this point you might notice that you do not have the resources to answer the questions that feel most critical. If that’s the case, consider options for collecting data that point to the answer or consider ways to raise funds or leverage other resources toward answering those questions. If you have a clear sense of the questions you need to answer and how that evaluation will positively impact your initiatives, it might be easier to find funders or other investors who are willing and able to put resources toward your evaluation efforts. Consider sources of existing data that might help you approximate answers to your questions.
- Let your needs and means guide the rigor. While it’s certainly ideal to collect more than one type data to answer a given question or to have multiple people involved in data collection, sometimes that may not be feasible due to resource restrictions. If you are primarily using the data for program improvement and learning purposes, this won’t be as big of a deal as it would be if you were hoping to make claims about your program’s overall effectiveness. Just be aware of the limits of the claims you can make when you decrease the rigor of your evaluation. For example, if you are working in multiple communities but only collect data in one of those communities, any success or challenge evident in the data does not necessarily apply to your program as a whole. Don’t let restrictions or limitations keep you from doing anything at all - focus on what you can learn from what you can do. For example, you might be able to interview a few community members or hold a small focus group of participants. Integrated data collection methods like Activity Based Evaluation can be relatively low-resource options for curriculum-based work.
- Collaborate with others in the community. Since sexual violence prevention work often involves community coordination – partnering with other organizations, infusing sexual violence prevention messages into other organizations’ services, etc. – there are also opportunities to collaborate on various stages of evaluation. Perhaps someone else is already collecting the data you need or needs the data you are collecting and can offer resources toward the analysis and interpretation of the data. Schools often survey parents of their students. If you are working in collaboration with school teachers or administration, you might be able to access the data they collect (if it is relevant to your work) or even add questions of your own to their survey.
Evaluation on a Shoestring: (Online Article) This article from BetterEvaluation provides ideas and resources for conducting evaluations with limited funding.