To what ends are we measuring?  For which purposes do we evaluate?

In a recent board meeting someone said,

We can measure.  We can seek to tally our impact.  But will it change us?  If only one child is hungry, will we not still feed them?

It’s fascinating for me to sit inside the picture frame of professional philanthropy and watch the power dynamics of measurement and evaluation unfold.  Donors and funders want to see that non-profits are making impact.  Yet, most non-profits are not well-resourced, well-funded enough to take on the burden of complex measurement and evaluation.  Funders don’t typically want to fund the boring and the back-end.  We clamor for results, but we don’t fund them.

In the middle, a new professionalized subset of philanthropy grows.  Measurement & Evaluation (M&E).  If the funding and the non-profit comes together, then M&E can be deployed to count, synthesis, and approve.  The perpetuation of this “need to know” begs one question:  to what ends?

If we do eradicate all, feed all, solve all and fix all, will it have been because of the many standards of evaluation that we devised?  Are we arrogant enough to think that we will not have then created something else, something unintended?

Like the leprechaun who seeks his pot of gold, there is tragic beauty in believing that we can plot, chart, and strategize our way to the end of the rainbow.  Even if, in our gut, we know that our arrival is but a fantasy.  The shear magnitude of the work we do leaves us wanting for a piece we can control.  We are human.  And we are manic for a way to quantify and qualify all of our efforts.

If we were to allow for a bit of chaos, it might be interesting to get back to the work at hand.  To get back to the nuggets of gift and reciprocity.  What else do we really need to do with our time here on earth?  We can certainly make sure all the measurement, data and evaluation follows to the afterlife.

A representation
of the perpetuation
of our measurement
and evaluation.

Standardization of Philanthropy

Standardization of Philanthropy

(Original comic at http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/standards.png)

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