By Jade Maloney
Making evaluation a process not just a product can enhance the likelihood of your findings being used. But at some point, you’re also going to have to deliver the product – the report.
By this point, particularly in a large-scale, long-term and/or mixed-methods evaluation, you’ll have a lot of data. It can be hard to know what your story is and where to begin with structuring it into a coherent report.
Some writers work by constructing the frame first; others find the story through the writing. Both approaches are fine – you’ve got to go with what works for you. But if you don’t start with the framework, you’ll have to retrospectively construct it. This means re-ordering what you’ve written so your message is clear.
A clear structure comes from a clear message. As Max Rixe recently wrote in an article on Writing capability in the public sector for The Mandarin, ‘Good writing is clear thinking made visible.’
You can’t work out how to order information without knowing what it is you are trying to say. It would be like building a house in the dark. Are you telling a story of triumph, tragedy or transformation?
If it’s a tragedy – aka it didn’t work out like we thought it would – you’ll also need to think about how you can make this palatable. Can you create a positive sandwich?
There is no one best way to structure an evaluation report – because the focus and findings always differ. But this doesn’t mean anything goes.
Don’t structure your report by data source. This doesn’t tell a story and leaves the hard work of piecing it together to your audience. It’s an evaluator’s job to synthesise, not just describe, the data.
Better options are structuring by:
Which one of these will work best depends on the kind of content you are working with and the composition and interests of your audience. (We spoke about knowing your audience in the second blog of this series).
The concept of telescoping speaks to my journalistic instincts to make it easy for the reader to jump in and get what they want, then drop out. Telescoping means thinking of each level of your report as telescoping outwards, empowering each reader to choose the level of detail they need – like they can in a traditional news story.
As a journalism student, ’Don’t bury the lead’ was hammered into me. But evaluators have taken on the mores of academic research – with long introduction and methods sections – ahead of the good stuff. While we’re not journalists – and we shouldn’t take up all of their tricks – in some cases, we might better meet the needs of our audiences if we tried flipping our reports and starting with the outcomes.
When drafting and reviewing your structure, ask yourself:
The next in our communication for evaluation series will cover telling stories for evaluation.