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Theory-driven & process evaluation: The art of getting inside and beyond the “black box”

by Jill ScheiblerBefore working in program evaluation, I received education and training as a clinician, specifically as an art therapist. Through my work as an art therapist, which was based in a personal belief in and, more importantly, empirical observations supporting the mental health-promoting effects of making art, I became curious about how to demonstrate arts impacts to the general public (including dubious funders and policymakers) and found a lack of relevant research to back up what I’d seen in practice. At the same time, I talked to numerous art therapists and community artist-practitioners who were doing good work with vulnerable populations in my city of Baltimore, all around the U.S., and throughout the world. The individuals I talked to all voiced their need to “prove” the value of their...

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The Cryptic Problem of Encryption

by Sarah McCrudenSo you’ve compiled some raw data for your next big report, or, you’ve come across a few clients’ records that have errors that need to be addressed. If you need to share these tasks with a coworker, email is often the most convenient method for sharing: just attach and send! Sounds simple. But, have you ever wondered just how the email makes its way to the recipient—and whether it’s really safe on its journey there?According to Leo Notenboom, a personal computer and software industry expert, concerns about email interception may be exaggerated: “It is possible to sniff and eavesdrop on email conversations. It's also not particularly easy, unless you're on an open WiFi connection.” Yet, he goes on to say that, “by default, the contents of email is...

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Guest Blog: Thinking like Aesop to Visualize Theory of Change

by Thomas Kelly, Jr. What are theories of change meant to do? As evaluators, we need to define what it is we   are examining and measuring—naming outcomes, uncovering assumptions, describing cause and effect relationships, and articulating the pathway of change intended by the program implementers. This diagram of the logic and belief about how our efforts will achieve impacts is used to measure the progress of work, and to test the validity of what we really know about the world and our role in changing it.We expect our theory of change to communicate the importance of the key concepts of the model, our ideas of interconnection and causality, and how we think we can respond to and change the many variables around us. This graphic boxes-and-arrows representation of our logic is one way of...

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Pick up the Baby. Look at the Baby. Talk to the Baby.

by Taj Carson, PhDLast week, we were talking to a prominent early childhood expert. We were trying to map out the pathways for children to develop good reading skills by the time they reached third grade (no small task). We had factored in instructional techniques, summer reading programs, and attendance initiatives, all of which have clear connections to literacy in school-aged children. In looking at the things that predict school success from birth to five years of age, however, it became a lot harder. Nutrition, health, whether there are books in the home; all kinds of things impact whether a child is ready to go to school.After talking for a while, our colleague sighed heavily--the kind of sigh that comes from spending years working on an issue, convening and serving...

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Reducing the Price of Hospital Readmission

by Tracy DusablonThe Hospital Readmission Reduction Program is part of the Affordable Care Act, which has ignited heated debates both for and against the program. The program aims to improve quality of care and lower costs by reducing hospital readmissions for Medicare patients. To accomplish this, hospitals are essentially ‘dinged’ when patients are readmitted within 30 days of discharge, and these ‘dings’ turn into financial penalties for the hospitals. As it currently stands, the penalty is one percent of hospital payments, and is set to increase to three percent by 2015.So, how are hospitals dealing with this new policy, which took effect in October 2012? To some extent, they may just be accepting the penalties, chalking it up to the expense of doing business. On a more constructive end, some...

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How to Recommend Ending a Program

There is no need to skirt the issue—programs being evaluated have justifiable concerns around what an evaluation report may do to the future of their program. Now, if all stakeholders have been honest with themselves from the beginning, it won’t be entirely unexpected to learn that their program is or is not performing well. However, the evaluation report may be the very first time that the outcomes are displayed in such a concrete way. (We will assume that the evaluator meets all evaluation standards and provides a quality report; issues of ethics are for another post!)Eddy and Berry (2009) recommend following a simple heuristic. Essentially, the evaluator determines if the factors leading to program closure are flexible or immutable. If the factors are flexible then the evaluator can recommend changes...

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Guest Blog: Moneyball & adapting to a data driven world

 by Meridith PolinThe role of the evaluator is much like that of Peter Brand in the  movie Moneyball (based on the book by Michael Lewis, a favorite author of mine). Peter Brand’s role as an economics whiz kid—   hired by the Oakland A’s— was to help them figure out how to win. Using meaningful statistics, Peter and the General Manager Billy Beane, helped turn the game of baseball on its head by looking at data in a new way. Similarly, evaluators are charged with  identifying and measuring the ‘bottom line’ of non-profit services from a social impact perspective. We have seen an explosion of businesses and non-profits talk about the use of data (like they do in Moneyball).But before anyone thinks about the analysis of data,   we (as...

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Looking back and looking forward

Carson Research has had an exciting and productive 2012, and we're thankful for our clients, friends, families, and evaluation colleagues, who were an integral part of our successes this year![caption id="attachment_159" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The CRC Team, 2012[/caption]Of all the developments that have taken place, one of the most noticeable is the growth of our team, and the diversification of our skill set that has come along with our new team members.Looking towards the New Year, we'd like to share how each CRC staffer chose to complete the following statement: Next year, I plan to enhance my evaluation skills by...

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A Look Back at AEA 2012

It's already the end of November, and we’re entering that time of year when people are inclined to look back and reflect on the events of the previous months. At CRC we are not quite ready to reminisce about all of 2012 just yet, but before November ends we do want to revisit an important event for us that occurred a few weeks ago. At the end of October, some of the CRC staff flew out to Minneapolis to attend the American Evaluation Association conference (and to see our first snowfall of the season!).If you follow CRC on twitter and/or facebook*, you already know that CRC was busy at this year’s AEA! Leslie and Taj (on behalf of Jenn, too pregnant to fly) presented Using an Adaptive Research Design in...

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Nonprofit Organizations and Outcome Measurement

by Sheila MatanoAn article by Lehn Benjamin in the September 2012 issue of the American Journal of Evaluation explored the extent to which existing outcome measurement frameworks are aligned with the actual activities performed by nonprofit staff to ensure positive outcomes for their clients.Benjamin’s analysis of numerous measurement guides revealed that existing outcome measurement frameworks focus primarily on program activities completed and the changes in the users as a result of those program activities. This highlights, rather overwhelmingly, that outcome measurement often misses important aspects of staff work, namely the direct activities they do with clients. It is this frontline work that is essential for helping staff build relationships in their communities that are paramount to positive program outcomes. Unfortunately in many cases this does not fully capture the work...

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