_One of the most effective things you can do to strengthen your dialogue-to-change program is to create an accurate process for documenting and evaluating the entire effort. This doesn’t have to be a complicated undertaking. It’s up to you to decide how detailed you want the process to be.
Many people who take part in your program will want to know who participated, how effective the organizing strategies were, and what the outcomes were. Moreover, grant-making foundations, public officials, news media, and other people who can help you expand, strengthen, and institutionalize the dialogue-to-change program in your community will all want to know about your efforts and their impact.
1. Revisit your goals
Refer back to the goals you identified when you developed your initial work plan. In order to set appropriate benchmarks, think about whether they are impact goals or process goals. Impact goals describe the intended effects of the dialogues on individuals, communities, and institutions. Process goals describe the strategies that organizers use to try and meet the impact goals.
2. Set benchmarks
Next, think about how you would know whether you have reached your goals. For example, if one of your goals is to influence particular policy changes, devise a system for tracking the work of action teams and their impact on policy. If one of your goals is to have diverse participants, then you can measure diversity through a participant survey.
Note that the purpose of these measures is not to say, “Gotcha - you didn’t do a very good job,” but instead to help you build on your areas of strength and to improve the quality and impact of the program.
Note also that the best strategies for documentation and evaluation are often those that are simple, clear, and straightforward. There is a place for more complex approaches to evaluation, but you can accomplish a great deal by making sure you are focusing on the questions that are most relevant to the short – and long-term success of your program.
3. Document the basics
Keep track of things, such as the number of participants and their demographic profile (age, gender, income, race/ethnicity, education level) and ideological preference (self-identification as a conservative, moderate, or liberal). You might also want to note which neighborhoods participants come from.
4. Track the outcomes
The outcomes of dialogue-to-change programs are many and varied. Here are a few examples of the types of impacts documented by other programs:
- New understanding of an issue – In Wilmington, Delaware, 79 percent of participants reported that dialogues on racism and race relations had increased their understanding of others’ beliefs and attitudes.
- New relationships between individuals, groups, and organizations – High school students who participated in a dialogue-to-change program in Kuna, Idaho, arranged to hold a “senior prom” at the town’s senior center. Teenagers and seniors dressed up in formal attire and danced the night away.
- New collaborations – A hospital in Marshall, Minnesota, created a program to teach recent Somali immigrants to sew, and provided them with new employment opportunities.
- Policy changes – The city government in Springfield, Illinois, changed its hiring practices for the police department, resulting in the first African- American, the first Hispanic, and the first female to be hired in the last ten years, all in one police class.
- Structural changes (new organizations and institutional arrangements leading to other changes) – In Orford, New Hampshire, dialogue participants concerned with declining school enrollment proposed a regional solution. The resulting Rivendell School District is the first two-state, K-12 district in the country, spanning four small towns in New Hampshire and Vermont.
5. Communicate the “public voice”
Community-wide dialogue-to-change programs generate a great deal of information about participants’ hopes, concerns, and ideas for change. Brief, accessible reports with this type of substantive information will be of great interest to public officials, the news media, foundations, researchers, and others who can help you expand, strengthen, and institutionalize the program in your community. Such reports are usually based on notes recorded in during the dialogues.
6. Evaluate program implementation
Take a close look at the program implementation. How do the facilitators and participants feel about the quality of facilitation, the discussion guide, and logistics (that is, accessibility of meeting places, transportation, child care, etc.)? How about your coordinator, working group, and coalition – how do they feel about the way they have been working together?
Use the information from these evaluations to measure progress, and adjust strategies and practices over the life of the program.