Why Do We Need An Eval Lab?
Post by Bethan Kingsley, Eval Lab facilitator
With an increasing push for evaluation in the nonprofit sector, organizations face the difficult task of incorporating evaluation into their day-to-day work with only minimal resources to do so. With limited time, evaluation can become a peripheral part of service and program delivery – a check on the funding checklist – rather than a tool of significant value for making improvements in environments of complexity. In response to this struggle, concepts such as strategic learning have emerged as a way to integrate evaluative thinking into the work of nonprofits for improved learning and decision-making.
But how does strategic learning and evaluative thinking work in practice, and can they provide feasible and useful ways of fostering learning in nonprofit organizations? To answer these questions and explore the possibilities of evaluation in the social sector, Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, Alberta Culture and Tourism, and the Community-University Partnership for the Study of Children, Youth and Families collaborated to design and convene the Eval Lab, which was launched in 2018.
The Eval Lab was designed as a social lab that was intended to ‘de-mystify’ evaluation and explore how nonprofits can integrate evaluative thinking into their practices for improved learning and decision-making. Social labs are spaces that bring diverse people together to address complex social challenges through experimental and iterative processes (Hassan, 2014). As such, the lab setting allowed space for developing and ‘testing’ evaluative concepts and tools within a flexible co-learning environment and applying these concepts in practice-based, social sector settings. Our broader intention of the Eval Lab is to support the transformation of a sector that uses data to engage in critical reflection to improve research, policies and practices that can address complex social issues.