January 21, 2016
Finding ways to make evaluation more meaningful and more useful has been a key theme in the evaluation literature since the discipline began, and there is no shortage of discussion around improving evaluation among nonprofit practitioners. The topic has been a highlight at ONN's annual conference in recent years.However, much of the discussion around improving evaluation focuses on methodology, tools, and indicators.There has been less attention paid to who is asking and determining the questions of evaluation, such as who evaluation is for and what is its purpose. Consequently, the purpose of this background paper is to review the literature on evaluation use with a particular focus on systemic factors. In other words, we are interested in looking at the relationship between evaluation practice and the overall structure and function of the nonprofit sector in Ontario.We're interested in the policies and regulations that guide us, the roles played by various actors, theassumptions we make, the language we use, and the ways in which resources move through the sector. We're examining the purposes that evaluation serves, both overt and implicit. We want to learn more about the factors that make evaluations really useful, the issues that can get in the way of evaluations being useful, and ideas for improvement. Ultimately, our goal in this paper is to generate a broad vision to inform our project's final outcomes.