If you’ve been working with grants for a while, you have probably noticed that the federal grant funding process is changing particularly as it relates to evaluation. In November of last year, I had the pleasure to work with Dr. Kelly Ball-Stahl and Jeff Grebinoski of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) on a presentation at the annual American Evaluation Association meeting regarding our shared experience of navigating these changing requirements.
Over the past few years, we’ve noticed remarkable changes in evaluation expectations. For instance, a few years ago, examining outputs was enough but now there is a much greater emphasis on outcomes. Similarly, there was a time when there was a large conceptual distinction between evaluation and research, those clear dividing lines are starting to blur through an increasing emphasis on evaluation rigor within the federally funding space, particularly from the Department of Ed, Department of Labor, and the National Science Foundation. It should be noted that this shift is not occurring simply to make evaluation and grant management more challenging. The underlying motivation is to ensure that the right interventions are being implemented to help the most number of individuals.
So, what are some consequences of these changes? Grant writers are increasingly involving evaluators in the evaluation planning of these types of grants because we have the expertise to be able to design experimental and rigorously designed quasi-experimental evaluations. For instance, at The Rucks Group we routinely work with grant writers to write evaluation plans for federal funding sources.
Another important consequence is that institutions have to strengthen their data collection systems. Data collection systems are all the entities within an organization that are involved in gathering facts, numbers, or statistics and effectively communicating this information to the right individuals. Having a fully functional data collection system is challenge by the “system” having a shared data language and an institutional research department that has the resources to appropriately respond to the data demands.
Although the changing requirements of federally funded grants do pose challenges for interested organizations, these changes also provide extraordinary opportunities. By increasing the rigor of evaluating projects, we are also creating a deeper understanding of what works. Through these efforts, our work collectively will improve the lives of as many individuals as possible.