Learning, Growing & Meeting Requirements: Using Qualitative Evaluation Methods In A Grassroots Organization: The Long-Term Impacts Of Family Support Programs On Family & Community Health & Wellbeing

Degree Name

MA in Sustainable Development

First Advisor

James Levinson


Balancing organizational growth, learning and donor requirements in monitoring and evaluation (M&E) practice is not easy. Small grassroots, community-based organizations face a multitude of challenges including: limited financial resources; lack of capacity and understanding of the need for M&E; decreased motivation due to constraints and limitations; and incongruence between organizational culture and systems and donor expectations and requirements. At the same time organizations, particularly in an environment of challenging economic conditions and competition for limited donor dollars, must be outcome and impact oriented, showing results, efficiency and effectiveness. In social fields such as family support, the trend toward results-based management, evidence-based practice and continuous quality improvement and the resulting demands for quantitative evidence further cloud the conditions for quality and useful M&E processes in small organizations. This capstone explores the use of qualitative methodology for M&E in small organizations using the example of the Grapevine Family & Community Resource Center, a grassroots, community-based organization in Antrim, New Hampshire. The study discusses a number of M&E tools used over the past two years by the organization in its family support programs, what information/data were collected, and how it was utilized. Methods included annual participant surveys, peer review processes, anecdotal monitoring tools and a long-term impact survey tool.

The paper attempts to demonstrate the value and effectiveness of qualitative M&E in a small grassroots organization to increase organizational learning and also help to meet donor requirements. With these goals in mind, the capstone explores, through qualitative evaluation processes, the long-term impacts that family support programs are having on the health and wellbeing of children, families and the community. The primary research questions are: What qualitative monitoring and evaluation methods are useful to small grassroots learning organizations? How can they be useful? Can qualitative methodology and the information elicited from such evaluation activities meet donor requirements? What are the implications of the findings for donors? A number of secondary questions are also examined: Are the identified short-term outcomes regarding families being sustained over time? What is the relationship between family and community health and wellbeing? How can the lessons learned from this capstone exploration be useful for other organizations?

Foremost the project was an exploratory case study of M&E practices in a small community-based organization. It was a close examination of the M&E requirements of the organization’s donor base compared to the organization’s needs, priorities and desired outcomes. Knowledge gained included: how to balance organizational learning and donor requirements in evaluation practice; discovery of the limitations of evaluation models, tools and methodology; the benefits and drawbacks of M&E systems, practices and techniques; and identification of areas for further exploration.

Several conclusions emerge from this study with implications both for M&E as a discipline, and for family support/prevention practice: (1) In order for evaluation to facilitate organizational growth and learning it must be participatory, relevant, appropriate, user-friendly and engaging; (2) M&E practices should give consideration to informational, organizational learning and donor needs; (3) Donors increasingly are demanding rigor, reliability, outcome/impact accountability, effectiveness and efficiency; (4) Effective M&E that both meets donor requirements and is user-friendly increases stakeholder buy-in, leads to increased capacity, and enhances organizational empowerment in donor relations; and (5) Donors, in turn, must recognize the limitations of small organizations and allow for flexibility and adaptation to local circumstances and context. Overall, the paper makes a strong case for the use of qualitative evaluation practices, even in combination with quantitative methods, and a shift toward alternative models of monitoring and evaluation that work for both implementers and donors.


Management Sciences and Quantitative Methods | Organizational Behavior and Theory

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