I recently spent three fantastic days in Montreal attending the 36th annual Canadian Evaluation Society Conference. The conference theme was, 'Evaluation for the world we want' and featured many informative and educational plenary, panel, and presentation sessions from national and international keynote speakers in the world of evaluation.
The conference got me thinking about how evaluation makes a difference and the reasons organizations and governments should conduct or commission this type of work. The decision to evaluate is usually motivated by things like material investment, high risk, innovative approaches, a high political priority or a desire to understand a program and its impacts. Here are a few of the insights I noted from the Conference on how evaluations can make a real difference:
- They can answer basic questions about a program's effectiveness and can be used to improve programs. Program Managers can find out what works and what doesn't. Knowing what works can preserve valuable resources and time. Knowing what doesn't work can assist program managers to make improvements in these areas by fostering critical thinking.
- Evaluation findings can demonstrate to funders and other stakeholders that a program has value and relevance. Sometimes it's hard to see the benefits until they're laid out in clear, objective detail.
- Conducting an evaluation can be useful in understanding issues in programs, assessing performance and identifying areas where additional support (whether in the form of funding or manpower) may be required
- Evaluations can provide a voice for stakeholders and staff to discuss the challenges they face and can offer potential solutions. Not everyone finds it easy to bring up negatives in a team environment; why not let the evaluation start the conversation?
- They can be a useful planning tool for similar programs and projects in the future
- They can provide evidence to support decision making around public policy, program continuation and improvement, replicating projects and developing budgets
- They provide a means of acquiring and providing information to citizens or groups on outcomes expected from policies and programs. This information is often seen as being more objective when it comes from a third party evaluator.
- Evaluations can add credibility and foster better governance by promoting accountability and transparency among stakeholders
How do I think evaluation can make a difference in our professional lives? I believe evaluations provide knowledge, which can lead to social betterment and act as a call to action. A well-executed evaluation encourages stakeholders to plan and reach for better policies, programs and workplaces. And this undoubtedly affects all of us as both employees and citizens.
On Sunday, June 7th many Islanders got together to take part in the annual Walk For Alzheimer's. Funds raised through this event support the Alzheimer's Society's programs and services for those living with dementia on Prince Edward Island.
This year MRSB accounting technician Marlene Webster set up a refreshment stand near her Charlottetown home to give participants a boost during the Walk. Thanks to Marlene for taking the initiative, and to all participants for making a difference in the lives of those living with dementia and Alzheimer's on PEI.
Contributor: Marlene Webster, accounting technician, MRSB Chartered Accountants
This year marks the 22nd anniversary of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of PEI Dream Cottage Draw. This annual fundraiser supports various programs that help Island children reach their full potential thrugh mentoring and fun. Each year tickets are sold on a newly-built summer cottage, just waiting to be enjoyed by an Island family. And in case the lucky winner has nowhere to put this amazing prize, they also have the choice to receive $65,000 in cash!
Through the month of June the MRSB accounting and bookkeeping teams are doing their part by selling tickets at the cottage Monday to Friday evenings. We've all had a great time chatting with fellow volunteers and telling visitors about the many features of this year's prize cottage.
There is still lots of time to drop by the Dream Cottage at the NEW Canadian Tire parking lot between 1:00am and 7:00pm Monday to Friday, 10:00am to 6:00pm on Saturday or 12:00pm to 6:00pm Sundays. Too far away? Just call 1-877-411-DRAW (3729) to purchase your ticket(s) by phone.
For more information on this year's Dream Cottage Draw, visit the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Prince Edward Island website.
Communities and regions are increasingly taking a leadership role in their own economic and social development. It is exciting and empowering for residents to get involved in shaping the community they live in and to lead developments that support their vision.
Pownal Sports Centre is one example of a community-led project that experienced great success, in part because of excellent management and resources.
When community development projects receive financial support from external bodies (government, other public monies, private sector contributions), ensuring the sound management of these financial resources and complying with the terms and conditions under which the support is provided are critical steps. Unfortunately, there are all too many examples in the media of non-profits who experience financial mismanagement, even fraud and embezzlement. Sometimes the organization recovers and sometimes not. In either event the capacity of the organization to fulfill its mandate is diminished.
Projects with the proper resources and management, on the other hand, have a higher probability of success and potential funders often look at an organization’s track record when making a decision to approve an application. Successful projects often have a ripple effect, serving as catalysts for other initiatives and investments in a community or region.
Fortunately, there are a range of coordination, financial management and administration activities that can enhance the success of your community development project:
Determining the best structure and governance
It is critical for the community group overseeing important projects to assign roles so that specific parts of the process are handled expertly and efficiently. Not all projects need the same degree of coordination, financial management and administration, just as not all communities and regions have the same degree of human resources to lead and champion projects. Even when a community or region has a pool of volunteers to draw from, projects may require specialized skills or expertise that are not available in the volunteer base.
It is important to take the time when considering a community project to realistically assess available resources and plan accordingly. It is possible to fill gaps with contracted, non-volunteer services. Funders and financing sources often approve the allocation of a portion of overall project funds to project management services because of the benefits to keeping the project on track, on time and on budget.
Preparing an overall project plan
A comprehensive project plan encompasses initiation, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, while balancing the constraints of scope/quality, time and cost. The plan should be appropriate to the size and nature of the project but regardless of size, some level of processes and procedures should be in place to enhance the likelihood of project success. A detailed financial plan that considers tax issues and implications relevant to those involved is an integral part of the overall project plan.
Securing or negotiating financing
This may be an ongoing process and involve multiple sources. It is important to note than the more sources of funding there are, the more complicated administration will be, as each funding source has its own expectations of outcomes, reporting requirements and timetables.
Implementing and managing the project
It sounds obvious, but it is surprising how many community projects fail to actually get off the ground, even when starting with the best intentions and planning. Implementation and management typically involve some or all of the following elements:
- Budgeting, timing of capital expenditures and cash flow management;
- Procurement of goods and services;
- Regular communication and meetings with funders, suppliers/subcontractors and the broader community to maintain effective working relationships;
- Tracking and recording of progress;
- Monthly bookkeeping and reporting responsibilities including financial statements and HST filings;
- Risk management
You should by all means be excited about your community project and motivated to see it through. With the right planning and delegation up front, even the most ambitious plans have an excellent chance of success. Our consulting team has seen small groups do amazing things for their local communities, both in Prince Edward Island and across Atlantic Canada. The sky’s the limit!