Research | The State of Evaluation in Ontario

publication date: Oct 22, 2018
author/source: Ontario Nonprofit Network, Imagine Canada, and Taylor Newberry Consulting

This Ontario-specific report that looks at what is being evaluated and measured by Ontario nonprofits and charities and the role and influence of funders on measurement and evaluation. This report explores how evaluation is conducted across the province, how the results are being used, and what Ontario nonprofits and charities think about measurement & evaluation practices in the sector.

94% of Ontario organizations evaluate their work in some way. Organizations most commonly evaluate their outputs, outcomes and quality - when they evaluate their impact or return on investment, it is almost always in addition to evaluating these three more common aspects of their work.

Organizations draw on a rich mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods and resources to evaluate their work. Quantitative resources such as administrative data and statistical compilations of services delivered are most common, particularly when evaluating outputs. Organizations evaluating their outcomes tend to add key qualitative approaches, such as case studies, interviews and focus groups. When evaluating impact or return on investment, a handful of rarer approaches such as experimental studies, standardized assessment tools, or case studies are also drawn upon.

Organizations use evaluation findings in many different ways. The most common of these relate to reporting (to Boards of directors and funders) and to tracking, developing and learning about program objectives and outcomes. Organizations using findings for these purposes tend to focus on evaluating their outputs and outcomes using more common methods and resources.

External funding plays a major role in evaluation. Organizations receiving some form of external funding tend to allocate more spending to evaluation and they are more likely to use some more specialized and labour-intensive methods, including surveys, interviews and focus groups. However, dedicated funding for evaluation is comparatively uncommon – just 28% of externallyfunded organizations said their funding included money specifically dedicated to evaluation.

Overall, organizations have quite favourable opinions about evaluation. Strong majorities see a need for evaluation and believe that it provides a good return for the time and resources invested. Most organizations view their evaluation efforts as being internally driven, but a minority believe there is too much external pressure to evaluate their work. A minority also highlight potential evaluation-related challenges to their relationships with the people they serve and a strong majority of organizations believe they could be making better use of the information they gather.

A number of key enablers or barriers affect evaluation capacity. The most potent enablers appear to be support from organizational leadership and buy-in from staff. The most potent barriers are lack of time and financial resources. Other factors, such as staff skills, knowledge, and tools or funder support are more likely to function as either enablers or barriers depending on the specific circumstances. 

Ontario Nonprofit Network ONN is the independent nonprofit network for the 58,000 nonprofits in Ontario, focused on policy, advocacy and services to strengthen Ontario’s nonprofit sector as a key pillar of our society and economy. ONN works to create a public policy environment that allows nonprofits to thrive. We engage our network of diverse nonprofit organization across Ontario to work together on issues affecting the sector and channel the voices of our network to government, funders, and other stakeholders.

Imagine Canada is a national charitable organization whose cause is Canada’s charities. Our three broad goals are to amplify the sector’s collective voice, create opportunities to connect and learn from each other, and build the sector’s capacity to succeed.

Taylor Newberry Consulting is a firm that specializes in evaluation, applied research, planning, facilitation and program design. Our focus is on helping our partners make thoughtful use of research evidence.

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