Theology of Evaluation
Project SPIRIT Director, Shanene Herbert, helping a young scholor with her schoolwork.
By Randi Ilyse Roth, Executive Director
We are serious about program evaluation. Or, in plain language, we are serious about learning how to be even better.
We are in the midst of taking a serious look at the impact of Project SPIRIT. With expert evaluators, we are systematically learning from interviews with our students, their parents, and the Project SPIRIT faculty. We are analyzing the literature of child development and related fields to see how our practices tie into what’s known about effectiveness.
And with a different team of experts, we are about to kick-off a major evaluation of Project Home. What really is that tried-and-true program’s impact on the families we serve? On the volunteers? And on its host congregations?
These evaluation efforts are not required by our funders. Our board and staff agree that evaluation is essential. We are rooted in faith, and we are undertaking this work in order to make a positive difference in community. We regularly encounter people with very scarce resources who are in dire situations. We have to get this right.
Without evaluation, we guess at what works best. We think we know. But in life, our experience and our hunches do not always lead us to the correct conclusions about what works best in other peoples’ lives. With evaluation, we find out much more. Evaluation allows us to become the best possible stewards of our resources and to be as deserving as possible of the trust of the people we serve.
Imagine the difference between “okay” work and excellent work in our programs:
- In Project SPIRIT, it might mean the difference between providing a safe, stable after-school experience, or instead providing an infusion of culturally specific learning and modeling that is academically challenging and personally fortifying to the students.
- In Project Home, it might mean the difference between merely providing shelter, or instead providing a truly warm, nurturing environment with the effective supports to enable families to transition well to stable housing.
Isaiah 1:17 tells us, “Learn to do good . . .” Evaluation is our method for this systematic learning. Our drive to engage in evaluation is rooted in our understanding that this is sacred work, that this work is about the other, and that we have to open ourselves to learning what really works for the other.
Randi Ilyse Roth