UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Off the sides of their desks : devolving evaluation to nonprofit and grassroots organizations Hinbest, Gerald Bruce


This study examines the changing context and implications for evaluation practice of social program and service delivery devolved to small nonprofit and grassroots organizations. The setting is explored through a critical reflection-on-practice of over twenty years experience conducting evaluation. Using a multiple case study approach, the dissertation examines nine broad themes through two broad composite scenarios and twenty-five detailed vignettes that portray the challenges of working as a consultant with and for small nonprofit and grassroots organizations as they grapple with growing demands for accountability through evaluation. The multiple case study analysis is complemented by an analysis of case studies in two broad areas of literature; one on the impacts of devolution in the nonprofit sector, and the other examining recent trends in evaluation conducted in challenging settings, including community-based and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The five broad themes addressed through the case studies and literature on devolution are: 1) accountability, 2) capacity, 3) mandate drift, 4) competition, and 5) complexity. The four broad themes addressed through case studies and literature on evaluation are: 1) theory-based evaluation, 2) inclusiveness (participatory approaches), 3) the changing and multiple roles of evaluators, and 4) the use of dialogue, deliberative and democratic approaches in evaluation practice. The study contends that the ‘rough ground’ of nonprofit settings provides a useful lens for understanding broader challenges and trends in evaluation practice; that evaluators provide more than just technical skills and knowledge, but undertake important roles in linking communities, mediating among stakeholders, fostering dialogue and deliberation about programming, and mitigating some of the more egregious impacts of devolution experienced by nonprofit and grassroots organizations. By acknowledging and supporting the development of such roles and responsibilities, the profession and evaluators working in these settings can provide meaningful contributions to public discourse about the nature of accountability, the broad context of social programming, the complex capacity challenges being faced by nonprofit organizations, and the role of evaluation in exacerbating or potentially mitigating such effects.

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