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Panel examines student assessment of nonprofit effectiveness

November 2, 2011 By Doris Green

Students in Lori Bakken’s interdisciplinary studies graduate course learned organizational evaluation skills while providing a solid answer to a growing conundrum: How can a nonprofit agency demonstrate its programs’ effectiveness?

Bakken, an associate professor in the School of Human Ecology, used a novel course design to engage students as evaluation practitioners and build a nonprofit’s capacity to evaluate its programs.

Bakken will discuss this course model in a Communiversity presentation, “Evaluating Nonprofit Impact: The Case of a Community Partnership,” on Wednesday, Nov. 9, with Hugh Meyers, executive director, and Cathy Couture, clinical supervisor, at Orion Family Services, Inc., Madison. The community partner worked with Bakken’s students to evaluate its in-home parent education program.

Orion Family Services assists 350 children and 110 families annually in 10 southern Wisconsin counties, focusing on abused and neglected children and delinquent youth. Four years ago, it initiated its Parent Skill Building delinquency prevention program to train parents who may lack the skills needed to deal with their children’s behavioral issues.

Couture participated in the spring 2011 course, in which students each completed individual projects in addition to the Orion Family Services group project. The students created a database of 57 families, obtaining human subject waivers, and analyzed the in-home parenting education. Couture already had pre- and post-test measures in place.

“The meat of the program evaluation is in the planning, not the analysis,” says Couture, who plans to use the skills she learned throughout the agency.

Still, the analysis brought a few surprises. While the in-home training was clearly effective, it was most effective for mothers.

“The program had little effect on dads,” Bakken says. She concluded there may have been instrument bias or that the female intervention team did not deliver the training in a way that reaches dads. “The training was also developed by a woman.”

Bakken presented her course model with Couture and project assistant Jennifer Danielewicz at the National Outreach Scholarship Conference at Michigan State University earlier this month, resulting in forthcoming journal articles on the class model and the results of the evaluation partnership.

The Nov. 9 presentation is part of the Center for Nonprofits’ Communiversity Series and begins at 5 p.m. in 1800 Engineering Hall, 1415 Engineering Drive. It is free and open to the public but registration is requested. A reception follows the presentation at 6 p.m.