Building Capacity...

—> Through Organization Assessment and Evaluation

Many organizations operate in a sort of "cruise control," moving from one budget cycle to the next with no apparent breakdown in their service to stakeholders; and yet the board may have this nagging feeling nonetheless of somehow having lost its way or its relevance and inspiration. This is a feeling the board should heed, for an organization — in order to stay relevant and "on mission" — must perform regular self-assessments and evaluations.

When is the right time to perform an organization assessment?

Many organizations which recognize the need for periodic assessments still struggle with precisely when they should be performed. With program priorities coming to bear, setting aside additional time for an assessment is a luxury few boards feel they can afford. So the question then becomes one of timing.

Should assessments be performed on a predefined schedule on the calendar, or should they coincide with the fiscal year or the strategic plan, or should they be done only when a crisis arises or an organization is in transition? Or does the timing even matter? The answer, as you might expect, is that there is no one-size-fits all approach or recipe; but whatever your organization's situation, if you find yourself asking these questions below, the time is right to conduct an organization assessment.

Where do we stand today?

Are we meeting our current goals and are we doing right by our stakeholders (members, clients, community)? How do we measure this? Do we have clearly defined outcomes in place against which we can make an evaluation?

Is this where we want to be as an organization?

Once having identified and measured our current performance, are we satisfied with it? Is it optimal or can it be improved? How do our stakeholders view us and what lessons can we take from them as we seek to redefine ourselves for the future? Are we even in a position to assess this with full confidence?

Are we on track and moving in the right direction?

Apart from snapshots in time, what are the trends and are we proceeding at the pace we desire for ourselves? If not, what is the impediment? Have we failed to foresee and budget for something or do we need to make corrections in our approach?

Where do we go from here?

Given the benchmarks of the present, where do we wish to take the organization in the coming years? Are we properly equipped and prepared to move in the direction we seek and, if not, what can we do about that? In what areas can we grow to better serve our community in the future?

If you find yourself asking these questions of your organization, the time is right for an assessment, and the Center can help. We excel in performing an organization inventory as a means of establishing a baseline from which to measure current outcomes and to assess the future prospects for performance.

This calls upon us to begin foremost by listening to the client and its stakeholders, for only the organization itself can identify where it needs or wants to be. Then we make use of survey tools and methodologies in order to verify that program objectives are truly on course and that they are a solution to a problem and not a solution in search of a problem.

The Five Basic Stages of Organization Assessment:

1. Determine what's important.

More often than not, organization assessments have a specific impetus behind them and they are invariably context-sensitive in any event. If a board undertakes the assessment process without stopping first to take stock of this context, the data it gathers may not be helpful or instructive. The first step, then, is simply to define precisely what an organization seeks to assess.

This may seem obvious enough; but every other phase in the assessment process depends on the effectiveness of this step. Does the board need an assessment of the full organization or only of a specific program? Or does a funder require this as a prerequisite for a grant? Has the organization undergone a change of leadership? Only when the context is identified and the scope is clearly defined can an organization move forward with a reasonable expectation of success.

2. Acquire evaluation data.

This phase consists chiefly in designing and developing assessment surveys which will extract data based on criteria established in phase one above. Depending on the kind of data being sought, the surveys should be administered to all stakeholders of an organization — including the board, staff, members, clients, etc.

While certain sections of the evaluation surveys will naturally reflect (and be crafted from) the unique conditions of the present time, a significant portion should conform to established benchmarks in order ensure that assessment results can be compared with previous assessments and also in order to maintain a baseline against which future assessments can be performed. This enables an organization to measure not only a snapshot of the present but also its trends and the direction in which it is moving.

3. Assemble and compile the data.

After the outreach is completed, all data must be collected from its disparate sources and compiled as a prelude to its analysis and interpretation. The Center favors the use of tools on the web — both for the intake process as well as for the subsequent compilation. Such tools automate the process and allow the data to be exported in a variety of formats on a variety of media. They also facilitate the presentation of data in a number of ways, such as numerically, graphically, etc.

Of course, not everyone has access to the web and accordingly the Center provides surveys in printed form for those who require it, (and the data culled from the hard copy forms are ultimately compiled with all other collected survey data.

4. Analyze and interpret the data.

An analysis of the aggregate data must then be performed. This step is crucial because an excess of raw or misinterpreted data can be as problematic for organizations as the lack of it. Indeed, a faulty interpretation can do more harm than not to have conducted an assessment at all.

This data analysis is best done neither by a third party alone, (whose ability to interpret the data may be hampered by a lack of context), nor by the board alone, (whose role as an interested party may lead it to introduce unintended bias or color to the interpretation). The best approach is for a third party service provider to work jointly with the board in this analysis.

5. Integrate and implement.

It may seem odd to speak of implementing an organization assessment, but absent this phase, an assessment becomes a mere academic exercise. After all, even well analyzed data is of little use if the process ends there. It's essential, then, that organizations use the data as raw materials from which to form policy and program recommendations for the present and future and then to integrate and apply the lessons it learns from the process so that its administration and programs can make mid-course adjustments in allowance of changing conditions. In so doing they are better positioned to stay relevant and to meet the outcomes for which they were designed.