News Service Contact: Laurie Gengenbach, 336-334-5371
UNCG CENTER OFFERS TRIAD NON-PROFITS
A NEW APPROACH TO EVALUATION
By Laurie Gengenbach
GREENSBORO — Ed Koch, the garrulous, gregarious ex-mayor of New York City, was known for approaching constituents on the streets of the Big Apple to ask, “How’m I doin’?”
It’s a valid question for anybody involved public service, non-profit agencies included. But for such organizations, objective answers can be very hard to come by. Unlike an elected official, non-profits have no opinion polls to consult. And unlike a business, non-profits measure success in terms much more complicated than the bottom line. Instead, they must answer questions such as: How many people stayed off drugs and graduated high school, or got a job as a result of our programs?
Though tough to answer, the questions don’t go away. Indeed, the need for measurable outcomes grows more urgent as the public and foundations increasingly demand accountability from the programs they fund.
Now researchers at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro can help area agencies who want to find answers about effectiveness. The newly-created Division for Community-Based Evaluation, run out of The UNCG Center for the Study of Social Issues, is gearing up to provide evaluation services and training in evaluation methods for community organizations.
The division promotes a new approach to evaluation that emphasizes partnership between researchers and program managers, says Dr. Doug Easterling, division director and associate director of CSSI. Studies carried out with the help of the division are designed to yield data that will support the improvement of programs and organizations. A strong emphasis is placed on identifying precisely which questions are critical to the organization being evaluated.
In taking the new approach, the division acknowledges that evaluators have not always been entirely sensitive to the cultures and needs of the communities they’ve researched, sometimes resulting in mistrust. The division is intent on taking a different, more collaborative path, Easterling says.
“A researcher who works in the community is a guest in someone else’s home,” he said. “Ethical considerations now call for a real partnership between the researchers and the community -- one where local residents have the ultimate discretion in deciding which interventions they are exposed to, and one where the data are ‘owned’ by the investigator and participants alike.”
“By asking and answering questions without judgement, the Division is able to help community-based organizations feel safe in evaluating what they are currently achieving and deciding how to grow,” he continued.
The division’s strategy includes a mix of evaluation services, including surveying clients. In addition to carrying out evaluation studies, the division will also provide beginning-to-advanced training in evaluation techniques for organizations interested in conducting their own evaluations. Regular seminars will also help agencies understand the issues and opportunities evaluation provides.
Easterling says these and other services will become available when
the division becomes fully staffed this summer.
Organizations interested in finding out more can contact Easterling at (336) 256-0259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Division for Community Based Evaluation is the second division to be created by The Center for the Study of Social Issues since it was established in 1996 to develop research and social programs to benefit the Triad area.
The other division, the Division for the Prevention of Youth Violence and Aggression, is a community-university partnership that brings expertise, funding, research, and training to address youth violence and aggression. The first major initiative of this division is in High Point.
Other programs within CSSI include: the Community Outreach Partnership Center in High Point, which is involved in the revitalization of the West Macedonia neighborhood, NC Kids, a foster and adoptive-family program; and GIFTTS -- Guilford Intitiative for Training and Treatment Service – which provides training, research, and advocacy for children with emotional and behavioral problems and their families.
Easterling joined CSSI in November, after spending seven years heading up the research and evaluation department at The Colorado Trust, a health-related foundation in Denver. He is author and co-author of numerous articles and two books, including “The Dilemma of Siting a Nuclear Waste Repository.” He received his Ph.D in public policy and management from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
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