Evaluation & Learning

Measuring progress toward our goals

The Walton Family Foundation is committed to ensuring that effective evaluation and learning are a core part of our practice. Evaluation plays a central role in providing actionable information – including informing priorities for projects and organizations to be funded, as well as informing us about the foundation’s progress toward achieving our overarching strategy and initiative goals.

Our approach to evaluation

Evaluation is intended to inform grant-making decisions by the board and staff and to provide useful information about our progress. Evaluation, therefore, occurs at a number of levels in our work. Our evaluations are conducted at the level of individual grants to assess the performance or effectiveness of grants and grantees in achieving specified results (outputs and outcomes). To appraise the collective impact of a body of grants, evaluations are also performed on grant clusters (which are collections of grants with common goals), strategies and initiatives. 

There are significant differences among our three focus areas -- K-12 Education, Environment and Home Region and, therefore, there will and should be some differences in how evaluations are conducted within each area. Despite these differences, there must be an appropriate level of consistency in the uses of and approaches to evaluation across all of the foundation’s work. Evaluations at the foundation are based on the best available scientific practice and, except where prohibitive in cost or time, use widely accepted approaches and metrics. 

To promote objectivity and rigor, all evaluations aim to maximize the use of quantitative targets and analyses. This is a challenging undertaking. Much of our work seeks ultimately to reform large, complex, and entrenched systems, such as K-12 education in the United States or fisheries management around the world. Progress in effecting such change can be difficult to assess quantitatively, and quantitative targets can be challenging to set. 

As a result, including qualitative measures at times will be unavoidable, and even desirable, as evaluators consider and integrate complex and disparate information. Nonetheless, setting appropriate quantitative targets and reporting on progress against those targets is a top priority for our evaluation work.

 

These key principles guide evaluations at all levels:

Actionable

— Evaluations are designed to generate meaningful, interpretable results that are useful for informing decisions. Evaluations strive to gather the most useful information, rather than all possible information, and to present that information in a timely and understandable way. The ultimate goal of evaluation is for the programs to be able to incorporate lessons learned into strategy refinement and new grant making.

Objective

— Evaluations are conducted or informed by the foundation’s Evaluation Unit, which has been established as a separate entity that works in parallel with, but outside of, the focus areas. This separation promotes independence and minimizes actual or perceived conflicts of interest that can arise when program officers are the only ones evaluating their grant making.

Collaborative

— Evaluation Unit staff work closely with program staff on all evaluations, ensuring incorporation of the program staff’s deep subject-matter expertise and experience with projects and grantees. 

Rigorous and Cost-Effective

— Achieving the balance between rigor and cost starts with ensuring that evaluations focus on the most useful information that can feasibly be obtained and not on trying to measure everything. When possible and appropriate, evaluations will use publicly available data and in-house capacity. Some evaluations, however, require commissioned research or external evaluators.

Guides to creating performance measures

All Walton Family Foundation grant applicants should review the video above and guides to compose complete and useful performance measures.

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