Innovation Network started—like most ideas that stick—with a clear need.
In the early 1990s, evaluation practices amongst nonprofit organizations were not what they are today. Although the growing desire for greater accountability in the nonprofit field was getting stronger, there was a general lack of expertise and understanding around how to evaluate the work of mission-oriented organizations, as well as insufficient funding to support learning and evaluation. While private companies traditionally measure success through their bottom line—monetary profits—nonprofit organizations with socially-oriented missions have a much more difficult task. Measuring impact in terms of social outcomes, cultural shifts, and increased equity has never been easy or straightforward.
In 1992, founder Allison Fine had the vision to teach nonprofits how to better plan and evaluate their efforts. Allison noticed that many nonprofit organizations did not have the capacity to evaluate their work. Often, organizations started to think about evaluation as an add-on item at the very end of a project. In its early years, Innovation Network partnered with a variety of nonprofits around the Washington, DC area to build the knowledge, capacity, and skills needed to advance evaluation practice.
Over the past decade, Innovation Network has broadened its reach to partner with nonprofits and foundations interested in social change. Their focus has gradually shifted from evaluating smaller-scale programs to evaluating harder-to-measure concepts such as advocacy and social movements. As their expertise has grown, they continue to evolve, partnering with organizations to tackle projects focused on advocacy, health and health equity, and social justice. They are also committed to advancing the field of evaluation through their research, practice, and sharing of their learnings with the broader evaluation and nonprofit community.
HOW THEY WORK
Innovation Network is dedicated to making evaluations accessible to nonprofits and foundations. They believe in the power of data and storytelling to inform decisions, strengthen results, and create lasting change. They also believe that evaluations are only effective when they are used!
To this end, Innovation Network designs all projects with a participatory approach, involving stakeholders in every aspect of the evaluation lifecycle: evaluation planning, data collection, analysis and reflection, and reporting. In their experience, this work receives significantly more buy-in when organizational staff are engaged in the process, leading to more effective learning and increased use of evaluation results.
They tailor their services to fit each client’s needs, learning style, and available resources. There is no “standard project,” but the following elements are common in their engagement with a client:
Evaluation planning involves the development of a theory of change or logic model. This process is an opportunity to reflect on critical questions around what an organization or program is doing, what differences it strives to make, how it plans to achieve this, and how it measures success. They work with clients to develop, refine, and prioritize evaluation questions that relate to both process and outcomes; to define outcomes; to identify indicators for measuring these outcomes; and to select the most appropriate sources and methods for data collection.
Their data collection techniques involve a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods that aim to capture a variety of perspectives. They provide not only numeric data, but also rich and nuanced stories to understand the differences made by the organizations they work with.
To communicate evaluation findings, they use data visualization tools and approaches to develop accessible and engaging reports, presentations, and other deliverables for learning and improvement.
In addition to program planning and evaluation consulting, they offer training and capacity building services, and conduct independent research. As a mission-driven organization, they are dedicated to strengthening the field of nonprofit evaluation, providing resources and expertise so that nonprofits have the knowledge and skills to learn from their work and improve their services and impact.See more