New Approaches
to Evaluating
Community
Initiatives

Volume 1
Concepts, Methods, and Contexts


Preface

About the Roundtable on Comprehensive Community Initiatives for Children and Families

The Roundtable on Comprehensive Community Initiatives for Children and Families is a forum in which persons involved in the current generation of community-based cross-systems reform efforts can engage in open and detailed discussion about the challenges they face and the lessons they are learning. It also provides a venue where they can work on issues of common concern. Originally called the Roundtable on Effective Services for Children and Families, its members were first convened under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1992. Agreeing that improving outcomes for children and families in poor communities would require more than improving the quality and quantity of human services, the group expanded its purview and membership to include a greater focus on community development and economic opportunity. In 1994, the Roundtable moved out of the NAS and became a policy program of the Aspen Institute.

The Roundtable now has 30 members, including foundation officers, program directors, experts in the field, and public officials who are engaged in cross-system, geographically targeted initiatives. (The Roundtable members appear in a list following this preface.) It is co-chaired by Harold A. Richman, the Hermon Dunlap Smith Professor of Social Welfare Policy and director of the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago, and Lisbeth B. Schorr, director of the Harvard Project on Effective Services and author of Within Our Reach: Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage (New York: Doubleday, 1988).

Roundtable members meet biannually to share lessons they are learning and to work on common problems they are facing. Each meeting includes updates to the group on current initiatives and new developments in the field as well as structured discussions, based on commissioned papers or formal presentations by outside experts, which have thus far revolved around the four general themes of financing, governance, community-building, and evaluation.

About the Steering Committee on Evaluation

In 1994, the Roundtable created a Committee with the goal of helping to resolve the "lack of fit" that exists between current evaluation methods and the need to learn from and judge the effectiveness of comprehensive community initiatives (CCIs). Committee members were selected so as to bring three different perspectives to the work: (1) program-level and policy-level experience related to the design, implementation, and evaluation of CCIs; (2) current social science research findings about individual, family, and community change and the relationships among those three levels of change; and (3) theories and methods from the field of evaluation. Committee members are listed at the end of this preface.

The Committee met twice during 1994 and designed an 18-month project, running through December 1995, that aims to develop new approaches to CCI evaluation that could be of use to program designers, funders, managers, and participants. Specifically, the work of the Committee will attempt to define the key conceptual building blocks that underlie the current generation of CCIs, specify the hypotheses or theories of change that are guiding the CCIs, assess and present the state of the research on which those theories of change are or should be based, identify the types of measures that could reasonably be used to track CCI progress and indicate progress toward outcomes, and present a set of guidelines or alternative approaches to designing evaluations of CCIs.

About This Volume

As a first step in the Committee’s work, a set of papers was commissioned to begin to lay out some of the key issues and challenges associated with the evaluation of CCIs. The papers served as the launching point for an intensive five-day working session of Committee members and several invited guests in August 1994, out of which the detailed Committee work plan emerged. Those initial papers, and an additional paper by Claudia Coulton, have now been revised and are assembled in this volume for wider distribution.

We would like to thank Alice Tufel for her insightful and conscientious editing, and Danny Wright for overseeing the design and printing of the volume. Both worked with grace under pressure.

With this publication, the Committee aims to introduce some of the challenges facing CCI designers, funders, managers, and evaluators. It is not intended to be an exhaustive review of all of the problems associated with the design, implementation, or evaluation of innovative anti-poverty programs, nor does it present definitive solutions to current problems. Rather, this book is intended to help those who are currently struggling with these issues to understand, give context to, and frame their own dilemmas with greater clarity. It also aims to ground further discussion and work in the field and, indeed, has already served this purpose for the Committee itself.

The challenges associated with the evaluation of comprehensive community initiatives might strike some as a mélange of arcane issues that relate only to a small fraction of anti-poverty efforts under way across the country today. Or, they might appear to represent some of the most intriguing intellectual and methodological dilemmas in the field of social and economic development that are being surfaced as a result of the cutting-edge nature of the current generation of comprehensive community initiatives. We warn any unknowing readers that this volume is quite clearly intended for those who identify with the latter perspective.

James P. Connell
Lisbeth B. Schorr
Carol H. Weiss
Co-chairs, Steering Committee on Evaluation

Anne C. Kubisch
Director, Roundtable on Comprehensive Community Initiatives for Children and Families


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