Nonprofit evalution – counting what matters

In the opening talk at the Art of Place-making Conference hosted by WaterFire Providence last week, Anne Gadwa Nicodemus provided an excellent overview of the challenges and possibilities for evaluating and measuring impact. While her presentation focused on creative placemaking, her content was valuable for many practitioners throughout the sector.

While also not always easy or inexpensive, too often this sector reduces evaluation to what can be measured quantitatively, like jobs or economic impact.

Multiple indicators and studies over time are essential to enhancing our understanding so that we can learn what difference – or not – our efforts are making.

Many speakers stressed the need for our sector to take back  qualitative evaluation as a legitimate form of measurement and to champion the other critical impacts we make in community, such as improving the social fabric and contributing to more fulfilled lives.

It us up to us not to abandon intrinsic outcomes because they are so difficult to measure.

I’ve made the case for this before — see Hope, Dignity and Quality of Life are also valuable outcomes, even when measured in hours.

As the slide says:

“Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted, counts.”

Or, from John Carver, “An imperfect measure of the right thing is better than a perfect measure of the wrong thing.”

But we do have to try, as Anne’s talk highlighted, both for making our case and for field building.

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