What is the role of evaluators in a time of crisis?

At a time when everything seems to be changing rapidly and communities are scrambling to ensure basic needs are met, direct service providers, government agencies, and philanthropic ventures are quickly pivoting to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on their communities. How can we as evaluators best support these organizations?

Learning to adapt

In close collaboration with clients, partners, and others in the evaluation field, Harder+Company is actively adapting our approaches and methods to ensure we can help our clients navigate this time of crisis. We are finding innovative ways to help shed light on effective programming practices, allowing for real-time tweaking and modification, and providing needed insight and information for strategic decision-making. Together, we are:

  • Developing tools to assess the impact of COVID-19 on programming and communities, capture innovative practices, and surface remaining gaps that philanthropic ventures can help fill;
  • Facilitating shared learning across clients, disciplines, and impact areas;
  • Providing strategic planning support; and
  • Adapting in-person trainings, meetings, and workshops to online and virtual platforms.

Recognizing our strengths

In recent weeks, several Harder+Company staff also participated in two virtual town halls hosted by the American Evaluation Association. The town halls provided a platform for evaluators to discuss the role of evaluation during the COVID-19 pandemic and discuss emerging challenges and strategies. With our fellow evaluators across the field, we reflected on ways we can meet the needs of our communities and recognized that as evaluators, we:

  • Look backwards, forwards, and sideways. Evaluation is not just about documenting what has been done in the past, but also gathering existing information about the present to help plan for the future. We can identify factors that might not yet be on the radar, but have the potential to influence future directions and outcomes.
  • Act as brokers and bridges. We develop relationships with clients from different communities with similar programs and initiatives, and often provide warm hand-offs between them so they can share learnings, successes, and strategies to overcome common challenges.
  • Connect the dots. We are uniquely positioned to share innovative practices across different fields and impact areas. We have insights into how a range of players—from educators to public health agencies, community-based organizations to foundations—are operating, adapting, and innovating to respond to their communities’ urgent needs.

Sharing lessons learned

In this unprecedented period of uncertainty, Harder+Company remains committed to helping organizations achieve social impact through informed, data-driven decision-making. We will continue to have ongoing conversations about how we can best support the work of our clients, and will be sharing in more detail what we are learning and how we are addressing research and evaluation challenges. We hope that, together with other evaluators in the field, we can leverage our skills to contribute during this crisis to the communities in which we live, work, and serve.