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<strong>Advancing</strong> <strong>Evaluation</strong> <strong>Practices</strong><br />

in the Field of Early Childhood Development

1 Introduction:<br />


3<br />

<strong>Evaluation</strong><br />

Capacity Building:<br />

WHY NOW?<br />

6<br />

<strong>Evaluation</strong><br />

Capacity Building:<br />


9<br />

<strong>Evaluation</strong><br />

Capacity Building:<br />


16<br />

Looking Forward:<br />


December 2015<br />

<strong>Evaluation</strong> Capacity Network<br />

University of Alberta

Introduction: SETTING THE STAGE<br />

As you read, we<br />

invite you to draw<br />

on your own<br />

experiences with<br />

evaluation.<br />

An overview of this<br />

stimulus paper.<br />

<strong>Advancing</strong> <strong>Evaluation</strong> <strong>Practices</strong> in the Field of Early Childhood<br />

Development is intended to generate ideas and discussion about<br />

the role of evaluation in the field of early childhood development<br />

(ECD). We invite you to engage with the content and the questions<br />

we have posed in a way that is personal to your own experiences<br />

with evaluation. This stimulus paper provides a foundation for<br />

celebrating previous evaluative efforts, challenging current<br />

practices, and forging new pathways for evaluation in ECD.<br />

We begin the paper by outlining the need for, and potential of,<br />

evaluation in ECD. Next, we present the need to advance current<br />

evaluation practices by building capacity to engage in evaluation.<br />

We provide an overview of evaluation strategies in ECD in Alberta<br />

and beyond, and turn to the academic literature for a conceptual<br />

understanding about evaluation capacity building more broadly.<br />

Finally, we conclude with a list of possibilities for evaluation<br />

capacity building to encourage discussion and the flow of<br />

creative ideas as we come together to collectively advance our<br />

evaluation practices.<br />

<strong>Advancing</strong> <strong>Evaluation</strong> <strong>Practices</strong> 1

<strong>Evaluation</strong> in the field<br />

of ECD offers many<br />

opportunities and<br />

challenges.<br />

The <strong>Evaluation</strong><br />

Capacity Network<br />

aims to build<br />

evaluation capacity<br />

& promote learning<br />

in the ECD field.<br />

Early childhood is a time of rapid development, learning,<br />

and opportunity for children, as well as for their parents,<br />

administrators, front-line staff, policymakers, and funders. We<br />

all want to be confident that the time and energy we devote to<br />

raising young children is enhancing their development. We want<br />

to know whether programs are making a meaningful difference<br />

in their lives. Using evaluation, we can begin to respond to<br />

these pressing questions. However, evaluation comes with<br />

many opportunities and challenges that are experienced by<br />

organizations in different ways.<br />

The <strong>Evaluation</strong> Capacity Network (the Network) formed out of an<br />

awareness of these opportunities and challenges, with the goal<br />

of advancing evaluation practices in the ECD field. Supporting<br />

children in the early years requires expertise and input across<br />

multiple sectors and disciplines, many of which have differing<br />

perspectives on ECD and evaluation. The Network connects<br />

this diverse community to enhance evaluation capacity and to<br />

promote learning through the shared practices, perspectives,<br />

and approaches of diverse ECD stakeholders. We need to<br />

engage in open dialogue to align resources, come to a common<br />

understanding of the impacts we are having on ECD, and<br />

collectively reflect on how to make informed decisions to best<br />

support young children. As the first step, this paper provides an<br />

information base to begin this dialogue.<br />


<strong>Evaluation</strong> Capacity Building: WHY NOW?<br />

Healthy experiences in<br />

the early years create<br />

a foundation for a<br />

lifetime of positive<br />

outcomes.<br />

Strong, well–rounded<br />

ECD programming<br />

supports long–term<br />

healthy outcomes, and<br />

can reduce expensive<br />

interventions in later<br />

years.<br />

It is an opportune time for enhancing our evaluation capacity<br />

in ECD. Decades of research show that the early years are a<br />

time of both promise and risk, setting the foundation for healthy<br />

functioning throughout the lifespan. [1] The environments that<br />

children encounter from the prenatal period onward have a<br />

cumulative effect on all aspects of their development. [2] In order<br />

to learn effectively and grow into successful adults, children<br />

need supportive and responsive nurturing in stimulating<br />

environments. Negative experiences during early childhood can<br />

put children at risk for many challenges, which in turn have<br />

significant social and economic costs. [2]<br />

Early interventions can help lessen the impacts of negative<br />

experiences. Providing children with early supports prevents<br />

negative outcomes and promotes long–term positive<br />

development in health and cognitive, social, behavioural,<br />

and academic domains. [3, 4] Organizations and funders have<br />

recognized the cost–effectiveness of earlier interventions over<br />

those implemented at later ages [5] , and are increasingly directing<br />

their efforts toward ECD.<br />

<strong>Advancing</strong> <strong>Evaluation</strong> <strong>Practices</strong> 3

There are multiple<br />

reasons for<br />

strengthening<br />

evaluation:<br />

strategic learning,<br />

accountability to<br />

funders, and building<br />

the field of ECD.<br />

There is a need for<br />

evaluation alignment<br />

and capacity building<br />

at the individual,<br />

organizational, and<br />

system levels.<br />

As investment in the field of ECD grows, so too does the need<br />

for organizations to be able to participate in multiple types of<br />

evaluation. <strong>Evaluation</strong> can be used for:<br />

• Strategic learning, to inform practices and enhance<br />

programming at the organizational level to better meet the<br />

needs of children and families.<br />

• Accountability to funders, to show how resources invested in<br />

ECD programming are used, demonstrate quality of service, and<br />

track the satisfaction and outcomes for children and families.<br />

• Field–building, to provide an evidence base for the field of<br />

early childhood development, and contribute to our broader<br />

knowledge of needs, appropriate programs, and services.<br />

It is critical that ECD organizations are able to participate effectively<br />

in each of these forms of evaluation.<br />

A review of the current state of program evaluation practice<br />

in Canada reported that there are not enough evaluators and<br />

evaluation resources to meet the increasing demand for program<br />

evaluations. [6] Organizations often lack the capacity, knowledge, and<br />

skills to collect the evidence they need to demonstrate their impacts<br />

and justify continued support. [7] In addition, different language<br />

and methods are used to describe and measure child outcomes<br />

across organizations, sectors, disciplines, and systems, highlighting<br />

the need for evaluation alignment and capacity building at the<br />

individual, organizational, and system levels.<br />


At the beginning of this section, we posed the question, Why<br />

Now? The current focus on evaluation capacity building is<br />

important because we now know that the early years are critical<br />

in setting the stage for long–term health and development, and<br />

we know that ECD programs are increasingly required to provide<br />

evidence that their programs are working. New and innovative<br />

evaluation approaches are therefore necessary to capitalize<br />

and build on the existing capacity in the ECD field, and to fully<br />

support the needs of children and families.<br />

Discussion Questions:<br />

What is your experience with evaluation?<br />

How is evaluation generally viewed in your<br />

organization?<br />

<strong>Advancing</strong> <strong>Evaluation</strong> <strong>Practices</strong> 5

<strong>Evaluation</strong> Capacity Building: WHERE ARE WE CURRENTLY?<br />

Consistent ways of<br />

measuring, reporting,<br />

and comparing<br />

the effectiveness of<br />

ECD programs are<br />

essential.<br />

CMEC recently<br />

developed a common<br />

vision for early<br />

learning in the<br />

Early Learning<br />

and Development<br />

Framework.<br />

In 2003, a report on early childhood education and care in<br />

Canada showed that ECD programs collect considerable<br />

amounts of data. [8] However, different provinces and territories<br />

often collect different information at different time intervals,<br />

using different methods. It is not often possible to compare<br />

data nationally, provincially, or even regionally. We therefore<br />

lack a solid understanding of the need for early childhood<br />

programs, the effectiveness of these programs, and the<br />

children and families they serve. Consistent ways of measuring,<br />

reporting, and comparing the effectiveness of ECD programs<br />

are essential. [9]<br />

At a national level, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada<br />

(CMEC) has developed an Early Learning and Development<br />

Framework. This national framework presents a vision for early<br />

learning that could be applied Canada–wide to foster continuity<br />

across jurisdictions and ECD settings. The framework offers six<br />

principles to promote a common understanding of a continuum<br />

of learning and development, as well as shared values regarding<br />

what is most important in the early years. [10] (www.cmec.ca)<br />


Provincial<br />

frameworks can<br />

support measurement<br />

of common outcomes<br />

at regional, provincial,<br />

and national levels.<br />

There are also a number of frameworks in use at the provincial<br />

level. For example, British Columbia’s Early Childhood<br />

Development <strong>Evaluation</strong> Project brought together community and<br />

government stakeholders to address the lack of coordinated ECD<br />

evaluation. The project identified four long–term outcomes, as<br />

well as shared measurement tools and technology, which have<br />

been adopted across the province. [11] (www.successby6bc.ca)<br />

In 2013, the Government of the Northwest Territories<br />

departments of Health and Social Services (HSS) and Education,<br />

Culture and Employment (ECE) released Right from the Start, an<br />

updated framework for early childhood development informed by<br />

an intensive public engagement process. The framework includes<br />

seven commitments, each supported by specific areas for action,<br />

deliverables, and target objectives. [12] (www.rightfromthestart.ca)<br />

Healthy Child Manitoba has also released an ECD framework<br />

that includes guiding principles, ECD building blocks, and<br />

recommendations for measuring success and reporting on<br />

progress. [13) (www.gov.mb.ca)<br />

Common across each of these provincial frameworks is a<br />

commitment to empower families, strengthen communities,<br />

improve access to programs and services, and foster safe,<br />

secure, and supportive environments during the early years.<br />

These frameworks can support the measurement of common<br />

outcomes at regional, provincial, and national levels to inform<br />

decisions around policy, funding, and programming.<br />

The Play, Participation,<br />

and Possibilities<br />

framework for early<br />

learning draws on<br />

stakeholder consultations<br />

to guide decision–making<br />

and align policy in the<br />

province, alongside the<br />

Alberta Social Policy<br />

Framework and Together<br />

We Raise Tomorrow<br />

initiative.<br />

In Alberta, there have been several ongoing efforts to guide<br />

decision-making and align policies and practices. For example,<br />

Play, Participation, and Possibilities is a provincial early learning<br />

and child care curriculum framework that was produced<br />

through a partnership between the Government of Alberta,<br />

faculty at MacEwan Early Learning and Child Care, and Mount<br />

Royal Department of Child and Youth Studies program, via<br />

consultations with stakeholders across Alberta. [14]<br />

(www.childcareframework.com)<br />

The Government of Alberta also engaged in consultations to<br />

create a vision for social policy in the province. The Social Policy<br />

Framework outlines eight priority initiatives, one of which is early<br />

childhood development. [15] These conversations also led to the<br />

<strong>Advancing</strong> <strong>Evaluation</strong> <strong>Practices</strong> 7

Together We Raise Tomorrow initaitive to support the well–being,<br />

safety, security, education, and health of children in Alberta, and<br />

included a preliminary outcomes measurement framework. [16)<br />

(www.humanservices.alberta.ca/department/previousconsultations.html)<br />

“Are we making a difference with our ECD programs?”<br />

“Yes, I think we are.”<br />

“But how do we know that we are making a difference?”<br />

Overall, everyone working in different sectors across the ECD<br />

field aims to make a difference. The question remains: how<br />

do we know we are doing the best we can for children and<br />

families in our province? By setting out shared language and<br />

common outcomes, these frameworks are a useful starting<br />

point. However, organizations still need the capacity to conduct<br />

quality evaluation to contribute to these frameworks. Community<br />

agencies, funders, and policymakers need to identify collectively<br />

the capacity that they each require to contribute to healthy ECD.<br />

This is where evaluation capacity building becomes important.<br />

In response to the question, Where Are We Currently?, there are<br />

frameworks available to help us understand how we are making<br />

a difference for ECD on national, provincial, and territorial levels.<br />

These frameworks identify outcomes that will be essential to<br />

consider when examining how we can build evaluation capacity in<br />

ECD.<br />

Discussion Questions:<br />

What ECD evaluation framework—if any—<br />

have you found most useful and why?<br />

How can these frameworks inform<br />

evaluation in the field of ECD?<br />


<strong>Evaluation</strong> Capacity Building: WHAT DO WE KNOW?<br />

There are multiple definitions of evaluation capacity building. For<br />

the purpose of this discussion, we have chosen to use Labin’s [17) ,<br />

which describes evaluation capacity building as:<br />

“an intentional process to increase individual motivation,<br />

knowledge, and skills, and to enhance a group or<br />

organization’s ability to conduct or use evaluation.”<br />

In this section, we present some research findings related to<br />

evaluation capacity building, and what they might mean for an<br />

organization. However, academic literature does not offer a<br />

complete picture. We also need to know more from you as an<br />

individual or organization working directly in the ECD field.<br />

<strong>Advancing</strong> <strong>Evaluation</strong> <strong>Practices</strong> 9

“I got an email from our funder about annual reporting.”<br />

“What do they want us to report on this year?”<br />

“Seems they have a new framework for us to use.”<br />

“What kind of information are they looking for?”<br />

“I’ll have to take a closer look. We may need to collect some<br />

new information.”<br />

“Who’s going to take that on? My plate is already full.”<br />

“We may need to bring someone in to help us, depending on<br />

how complex it is.”<br />

“Well, once it’s done, we can get back to business.”<br />

Research tells us:<br />

Using hands–on<br />

strategies promotes<br />

the positive benefits<br />

of evaluation and<br />

improves buy–in.<br />

Mutually–Beneficial <strong>Evaluation</strong><br />

The above conversation demonstrates how demands for<br />

evaluation can, at times, lack relevance in our work, and place<br />

additional stress on staff. Research shows that organizations<br />

need to directly experience the benefits of evaluation before<br />

staff will fully buy into evaluation as a tool for program<br />

improvement. [18) This suggests that efforts to build evaluation<br />

capacity should be highly participatory, with opportunities for<br />

hands–on, practical learning, and reflection throughout.<br />

Discussion Questions:<br />

Can you think of a positive experience your<br />

organization has had with evaluation?<br />

What made it positive?<br />


Research tells us:<br />

Fostering a strong<br />

evaluative learning<br />

culture leads to<br />

effective evaluation<br />

capacity building.<br />

A Strong <strong>Evaluation</strong> Learning Culture<br />

Having an evaluative learning culture is a fundamental<br />

component of effective evaluation capacity building in an<br />

organization. [18) In organizations with a strong learning<br />

culture, staff freely share information, trust one another and<br />

feel comfortable asking questions and taking risks. Leaders<br />

encourage collaboration, seek information from others when<br />

making decisions, are open to feedback, and reward employees<br />

for learning, taking part in professional development, and<br />

engaging in evaluation. [19) In this environment, evaluation can<br />

be a system for organizational learning [18) that staff use to make<br />

informed decisions that can enhance programming.<br />

Discussion Questions:<br />

What characteristics does your organization<br />

have that support an evaluation learning<br />

culture?<br />

<strong>Advancing</strong> <strong>Evaluation</strong> <strong>Practices</strong> 11

Research tells us:<br />

Participants’<br />

motivations,<br />

assumptions, and<br />

expectations should<br />

inform evaluation<br />

capacity building<br />

activities.<br />

Motivations, Assumptions, and<br />

Expectations<br />

In line with a hands–on participatory approach, participants’<br />

motivations, assumptions, and expectations should inform the<br />

design of evaluation capacity building activities. [19) Understanding<br />

motivation helps determine if timing is appropriate, and provides<br />

insight into which staff members should participate and which<br />

teaching and learning strategies are likely to succeed. It is also<br />

important to discuss participants’ assumptions and expectations<br />

for evaluation in their organization. For example, some staff<br />

members may not believe that evaluation leads to effective<br />

decision–making. Sharing these assumptions ensures that all<br />

participants are starting evaluation capacity building activities on<br />

the same page.<br />

Discussion Question:<br />

What might be the motivation for you or<br />

your organization to engage in evaluation?<br />


Research tells us:<br />

Understanding<br />

current capacity and<br />

future goals for your<br />

organization shapes an<br />

effective approach.<br />

Current Capacity, Future Goals, and<br />

Specific Needs<br />

Assessing an organization’s existing capacity levels before<br />

implementing capacity building initiatives will help shape an<br />

effective approach. Goals for capacity building should also be<br />

identified at the beginning of initiatives. Some organizations may<br />

start with the objective to address staff beliefs about evaluation,<br />

or to foster a stronger organizational learning culture. Other<br />

organizations may prioritize building evaluation skills and<br />

knowledge. Regardless of the specific objectives, evaluation<br />

capacity building initiatives are more likely to succeed if these<br />

objectives are clearly defined and understood.<br />

Discussion Question:<br />

What might be some objectives for building<br />

evaluation capacity in your organization?<br />

Research tells us:<br />

Understanding the<br />

specific need(s) for<br />

evaluation in your<br />

organization will<br />

streamline evaluation<br />

efforts.<br />

When implementing evaluation capacity building initiatives, it<br />

is important to clarify between the need for building capacity to<br />

do evaluation, the need for building capacity to use evaluation<br />

results, or the need for both. [18)<br />

Capacity to do evaluation is built primarily from formal and<br />

informal training to build knowledge, skills, and abilities<br />

and apply them to the workplace setting. This type of<br />

capacity building should happen on both an individual and<br />

an organizational level. On an individual level, this includes<br />

developing the abilities to plan evaluations, develop and<br />

use evaluation instruments, collect data, and analyze and<br />

interpret data, as well as a number of “soft skills” that are<br />

developed through practical experience, such as conflict<br />

resolution, collaboration, and cooperative communication. At an<br />

organizational level, evaluation capacity can be measured by the<br />

frequency and quality of evaluation efforts.<br />

<strong>Advancing</strong> <strong>Evaluation</strong> <strong>Practices</strong> 13

We can also consider individual and organizational capacity<br />

to use evaluation results in planned and intentional ways. For<br />

example, organizations can use evaluation results to make<br />

decisions on program continuation, revision, and improvement;<br />

to reaffirm program impacts with staff and stakeholders; and to<br />

more closely align with an organizational or funders’ mandate.<br />

Factors that determine whether evaluation results are used<br />

can include the extent to which evaluation results are timely,<br />

constructive, relevant, credible, and understandable to primary<br />

evaluation users. Building capacity for evaluation use involves<br />

developing an awareness of these conditions and how they shape<br />

how evaluation results are used. [18)<br />

Discussion Questions:<br />

How is the information gained<br />

through evaluation used by your<br />

organization?<br />


Research tells us:<br />

Dedicating time and<br />

effort after a learning<br />

opportunity supports<br />

sustainable evaluation<br />

capacity building.<br />

Sustaining Your Efforts<br />

<strong>Evaluation</strong> capacity needs to be sustained in order to make<br />

a lasting difference. [19) Capacity building participants need<br />

support to transfer and use their learning once they have<br />

completed training. [17) Organizations can also develop evaluation–<br />

specific policies and procedures, such as including evaluation<br />

responsibilities in job descriptions and resource allocation<br />

documents. Other strategies to support long–term sustainability<br />

of evaluation capacity building efforts can include making an<br />

explicit commitment to integrate evaluation into decision–<br />

making, goal–setting, and resource allocation, as well as<br />

communicating and celebrating how evaluation findings are used<br />

in reports and communications.<br />

Discussion Questions:<br />

How realistic are these suggested practices<br />

for building evaluation capacity in your<br />

organization?<br />

In response to the question, What Do We Know?, we understand<br />

that there are a number of elements important to effective<br />

evaluation capacity building. According to research, we need to<br />

• employ hands–on strategies,<br />

• foster a strong learning culture,<br />

• consider motivations, assumptions, and expectations,<br />

• understand current capacity, future goals, and specific needs,<br />

and<br />

• invest time and effort post–learning.<br />

It will be useful to consider these elements when we begin to<br />

explore the possibilities for building evaluation capacity in ECD.<br />

<strong>Advancing</strong> <strong>Evaluation</strong> <strong>Practices</strong> 15

Looking Forward: WHAT ARE THE POSSIBILITIES?<br />

We need to explore<br />

ways to advance<br />

how we collect and<br />

examine information.<br />

If we work together, we can generate solutions to the evaluation<br />

challenges we currently face in the ECD field. There are many<br />

possibilities for evaluation capacity building, and we want to know<br />

what would help you in your work.<br />

There are already evaluation capacity building efforts in place<br />

across Canada. For example, the University of Manitoba<br />

offers a Summer Institute in Program <strong>Evaluation</strong> (www.<br />

thesummerinstitute.ca). The Institute brings together<br />

practitioners and university students to exchange information and<br />

improve evaluation skills using lectures, case studies, and group<br />

work. [20) Another example is the First Steps First: A Community–<br />

Based Workbook for Evaluating Substance Abuse and Mental<br />

Health Programs in Saskatchewan, created by the Saskatchewan<br />

Team for Research and <strong>Evaluation</strong> of Addictions Treatment<br />

and Mental Health Services (www.addictionresearchchair.ca/<br />

creating-knowledge/provincial/s-t-r-e-a-m/first-steps-first).<br />

This workbook provides information to program staff on the steps<br />

needed to prepare for an effective evaluation. [21) The Canadian<br />

<strong>Evaluation</strong> Society (CES) also offers a number of regional and<br />

national professional development tools. The CES Essential Skills<br />

Series provides an introduction to program evaluation skills and<br />


is offered on demand. CES webinars cover areas of interest within<br />

each region, and the CES Annual Conference provides a forum to<br />

discuss major theoretical, philosophical, and practical evaluation<br />

issues. [22) (www.evaluationcanada.ca/professional-learning)<br />

There are many<br />

ways we can build<br />

evaluation capacity<br />

together.<br />

When we consider the question, What Are the Possibilities?, it<br />

is evident that there are many potential options for evaluation<br />

capacity building strategies. Examples from across Canada<br />

can stimulate ideas for implementing strategies through the<br />

<strong>Evaluation</strong> Capacity Network. Ultimately, there is a need to<br />

generate solutions that will advance how we collect and examine<br />

information, to ensure that children in our communities are<br />

thriving. It is our hope that this stimulus paper provides a starting<br />

point to open dialogue and stimulate creative ideas among ECD<br />

stakeholders to better meet the evaluation capacity building needs<br />

across sectors and disciplines.<br />

Discussion Question:<br />

What would help you to build evaluation<br />

capacity in your organization?<br />

The time is right to come together and work toward the advancement<br />

of evaluation practices in the ECD field. Meaningful evaluation can<br />

enhance our collective ability to engage in reflective practices that<br />

best support the well–being of young children. <strong>Advancing</strong> <strong>Evaluation</strong><br />

<strong>Practices</strong> provides an overview of the need for building evaluation<br />

capacity, and offers some examples for doing so. However, this paper<br />

is only a starting point. For the <strong>Evaluation</strong> Capacity Network to advance<br />

evaluation practices in ECD, we need to engage in collective discussion<br />

across the province to ensure steps taken are relevant to a range of<br />

stakeholders working across varied contexts.<br />

<strong>Advancing</strong> <strong>Evaluation</strong> <strong>Practices</strong> 17

Through our collective ideas, we can forge new pathways for<br />

advancing evaluation practices in the field of ECD. In collaboration,<br />

we can ensure that the evaluation we engage in is meaningful<br />

to our work and helps us to know that we are truly making a<br />

difference.<br />

Consider the<br />

possibilities...<br />

The examples below are some ideas for how evaluation capacity<br />

could be enhanced in the field of ECD. Consider these as a starting<br />

point as you ask yourself, What Are the Possibilities? Explore<br />

what would be useful for you and your organization to advance<br />

evaluation practices and better understand how you are making a<br />

difference for children and families.<br />

courses<br />

events<br />

tools<br />

dialogue<br />

interacting<br />

together<br />

learning<br />

from<br />

experts<br />

mentoring<br />



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<strong>Advancing</strong> <strong>Evaluation</strong> <strong>Practices</strong> 21

December 2015<br />

<strong>Evaluation</strong> Capacity Network<br />

University of Alberta<br />

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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