Metrics to Evaluate Whole Family Work
Foundations at the board and staff level can utilize a range of tools and metrics to evaluate whole family focused investments. Importantly, metrics to evaluate whole family work are most effective when they span parent, child, and whole family outcomes. This can sometimes present significant challenges with grantees, who may be collecting data on parents or children, but not both.
Many funders have found it helpful to request comprehensive data from grantees, but to be flexible in the kinds of data that are collected. For example, a workforce program could ask for child development metrics from a child care center and utilize whatever metrics that partner regularly collects, which may differ across centers. Or a home visiting program could collect employment data based on what its partnering employment program, or housing program, regularly collects.
A set of principles identified by Ascend in their two-generation guide on evaluation and assessment include:
- Measure and account for outcomes for both children and parents. Outcomes for both children and parents, or the adults in children’s lives, are at the heart of a true two-generation program. Working collaboratively with families, programs should both articulate and track outcomes for both children and adults.
- Embed learning and evaluation in program design and strategy. Strong two-generation programs embed learning and evaluation strategies when designing their program. Knowing upfront how to measure success, along with articulating the program’s approach and assumptions, is central to achieving the intended outcomes. Armed with clear thresholds for near- and long-term success, programs can better make programmatic refinements based on real-time learning.
- Use multiple approaches. Cutting-edge two-generation strategies draw on a growing multidisciplinary knowledge and evidence base, as well as data-driven field experience, to design and adapt effective approaches to advancing outcomes for children and parents together. To keep pace, two-generation learning and evaluation partners must draw flexibly on a mix of research methods, such as formative evaluation (i.e., learn as you go), the investigative methods of the biological sciences, and quasi-experimental and experimental design.
- Use data. Gathering and sharing data is necessary for the continuous improvement of two-generation programs and, in turn, enhanced outcomes for families. Programs should identify how data will be used prior to collecting it and use and share the data that is collected. Engaging families in data collection and data-sharing strategies not only promotes transparency, but may also support broader community goals, such as increased civic engagement among families.
- Evaluation efforts build internal capacity and ensure continuous feedback. Organizations implementing two-generation programs need a solid internal capacity to support two-generation learning and evaluation efforts. Resources are dedicated to ensuring staff members are knowledgeable about two-generation learning and evaluation methods and tools. The organization also solicits feedback from families and community partners, and program outcomes are compiled and reported routinely.
Defining Whole Family, Two-Generation Outcomes
There are no “two-generation outcomes,” per se. Rather, there are outcomes that two-generation programs typically target across the child-focused, parent-focused, and family-focused spectrum. “Making Tomorrow Better Together” offers a preliminary list of these outcomes for field-wide discussion. Programs that provide services to just parents or children also often draw from this list, but they rarely integrate their services across generations or target family-focused outcomes, which are hard to obtain through a single-generation program model.
Two-generation practitioners move from having an approach to having a program when they take the initiative – either alone or with partners – on developing a strong two-generation theory of change as well as internal and external evaluation mechanisms to better understand the drivers and potential levers for improving child and parent outcomes simultaneously. Once these conditions are set and implementation has begun, two-generation programs must then challenge their assumptions and ask themselves: Are our intentions to produce strong outcomes matched by real-life results? This requires two-generation programs to continuously improve by testing both their design and implementation strategies through an appropriate balance of innovation and evidence-based practice. In sum, two-generation programs produce the learning culture, technology, and data necessary to:
- Identify the best outcomes for their target population and program capacity;
- Design the right conceptual framework and implementation plan, which spells out details on timing, sequence, and level of intensity for both generations as well as short- and medium- or long-term measures of success; and
- Test and modify implementation results by collecting and analyzing data on all measures, ensuring meaningful input from beneficiaries; making real-time programmatic adjustments; and conducting and learning from longer-term evaluations that approximate a counterfactual.
Following are resources to support the identification of child, parent, and family outcomes for organizations seeking to both support their own assessment as well as create grantmaking strategies that spur evaluations.
- Making Tomorrow Better Together
- Reinventing the Way We Measure Family Outcomes
Following are resources to support evaluating policy advocacy related to whole family work.
- Korwin Consulting, in partnership with the Women’s Funding Network, created an overview of strategies to evaluate public policy work.
- Korwin Consulting also compiled a set of resources related to policy advocacy evaluation.
- Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona has a policy dashboard to measure policy outcomes.