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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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Heather Weiss

As evaluators we are convinced that having the right information available at the right time goes a long way to help organizations improve their program performance and meet their goals. This assumption, however, merits further scrutiny about an organization’s readiness to use evaluation information and the evaluation-program relationship. With today’s policy and funding environment focused on outcomes, it is crucial more than ever before to not only make sure those outcomes get measured for accountability purposes, but to examine the conditions that facilitate evaluation for continuous improvement and high performance.

In this issue of The Evaluation Exchange on continuous improvement in human service organizations, we learn that the management of people in an evaluation can be harder than the management of data. Organizations with a culture that values inquiry, exploration, and discovery, as well as self-examination, are on the forefront of using evaluation to fine tune their programs and be innovative. Where this “culture of inquiry” is lacking, evaluators need to be prepared to adopt new roles as change agents who can dispel fears about evaluation and nurture change in an organization’s mindset.

Our contributors assert that for organizations to make use of evaluation findings, the evaluation process needs to be relevant to individuals and to support learning, which leads to new insights and actions within an organization. To this end, evaluators must assume the role of facilitators of learning, engaging participants in a meaningful and non-threatening way to discuss findings and take next steps.

Evaluators are using diverse evaluation approaches and designing tools that are tailored to the program or organization being evaluated. Articles in this issue describe various options—reflective assessment, risk analysis, standards of excellence, balanced scorecard, matrices and portfolios, and an outcome-based information system. Evaluators are also striving to clarify their presentations and apply effective training techniques. Finally, they are providing organizations with performance measurement systems to address equity issues through various design options.

A recurrent theme in this issue is that organizations can also go overboard in their focus on outcomes. Our contributors advise, “be realistic and set incremental goals.” But even when these are established, evaluators and program practitioners face the challenge of identifying appropriate performance levels and measures for these goals, and determining productive next steps. Understanding the reasons behind evaluation findings about performance is essential to deciding follow-up actions and who should be accountable for what.

It is not enough, though, to think about evaluation for continuous improvement and high performance solely within an organizational context. Evaluators and practitioners need to think about building a learning system for a field of practice, such as juvenile justice or full-service schools, and to connect the knowledge gained from individual evaluations to pinpoint gaps, raise new questions, and identify the next generation of best practices.

The HFRP research team and I hope you find this issue provokes new questions and insights. We invite you to share your ideas with us at

Heather B. Weiss, Ed.D.
Founder & Director
Harvard Family Research Project

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© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project