The State of Network Evaluation: Framing Paper

Published: July 2014

Type: Publication

This paper examines the field’s thinking on network evaluation frameworks, approaches, and tools.

Julia Coffman

Not long ago, only a few funders, nonprofits, and social entrepreneurs thought that they might increase their impact by building networks. Today, many in the social-change sector are recognizing the potential power of networks for achieving social change. Social sector actors are building networks because they think they can achieve better results faster if they work together, especially when tackling complex problems with solutions that can’t be known in advance and that must be invented, tested, and scaled up. This has led to an increase in funder investments in the design, launch, management, and evaluation of networks.

In response to that growing interest, this paper examines how to evaluate networks. It discusses why network evaluation is of increasing interest to funders and to practitioners, and offers the field’s thinking on network evaluation approaches and tools.

Specifically, the paper addresses:

  • Why networks and evaluations of them are important
  • What is unique about networks and the implications for evaluation
  • What elements of a network can be evaluated
  • What evaluation designs, questions, and methods/tools are relevant
  • Challenges ahead for the field.

This paper can be used as a standalone document for funders, network practitioners, and network evaluators. It also was designed for use with Evaluating Networks for Social Change: A Casebook. Both can be found at the Network Impact website. Together, the two resources offer real-life examples of funder-driven evaluations of networks, including their methods and results.