Making Evaluation Matter

Published: October 2006

Type: Publication

This report offers insights from a 2006 Evaluation Roundtable convening. It looks at where evaluation was falling short in its role and an action agenda for how it can better help to improve foundation effectiveness. 


Does evaluation add value to philanthropy? When members of the Evaluation Roundtable network gathered in June 2006, that critical question topped the agenda. Participants took a hard look at the various roles of evaluation in foundations in an effort to determine whether and where foundation evaluators contribute substantively to grantmaking.

Judging from the three-day meeting, “varied” would be an understatement.

When participants initially were asked what image comes to mind when they think of their job, there were almost as many answers as people in the room.

“Organizational therapist.” “Critic.” “Interloper.” “Contortionist.” “Herder of angry cats.” “Pulling the curtain back.” “Reality checker.”

Only late in the discussion did anyone mention the role of “evaluator”—and by then it was clear that many evaluation staff are buckling under the ambiguity and weight of such an assortment of roles.

When asked what stood in the way of the more effective use of evaluation, participants identified a wide range of constraints—lack of time, clarity, organizational commitment, staff resources, support from program staff, support from leadership—nearly stopping evaluation in its tracks.

This report presents the ideas and next steps emerging from that Evaluation Roundtable gathering. The first section offers a diagnosis of the problem—those issues and obstacles that, participants argued, stand in the way of foundations getting the most from what evaluation can offer. The second section is an action agenda, informed by the meeting, to make evaluation matter.