Brown School launches Evaluation Center

Community Engagement

The Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis has launched the Evaluation Center to provide client-driven evaluation services and training for nonprofit organizations, funders, universities and government agencies.

“Our goal is to take the fear out of evaluation,” said Nancy Mueller, assistant dean for planning and evaluation at the Brown School and director of the center.

“We want to help organizations answer some fundamental questions, such as are we having an impact? Are our resources being utilized adequately? How can we improve our organization? How do we tell our story effectively?”

The center was launched May 20 with a keynote address from Thomas J. Chapel, chief evaluation officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He spoke about the goals of evaluation and emphasized the importance of collaboration and partnership.

“We are in the ‘improving’ business,” Chapel said. “A strong evaluation thinks first and foremost, ‘What is important, and then, how can I measure it?

“It is impossible to answer the questions that matter unless you engage the people that matter,” he said. “Successful evaluations rely on the joint efforts of multiple stakeholders.”

The center is uniquely positioned at the Brown School, a top school of social work and public health, Mueller said.

“We bring our understanding of community-based organizations and systems level change to every project,” she said.

The Brown School has many leaders in the field of evaluation and performance management. More than 85 percent of Brown School faculty members have conducted evaluation-related work through education and training, direct-service provision or contributing new methods and approaches to advance the field.

“We bring together the expertise of the Brown School’s faculty and staff to advance evaluation science and practice to help organizations create lasting social impact,” Mueller said.

Every week, the Brown School is approached by community-based organizations, foundations or government agencies for assistance with evaluation, strategy or organizational change, Mueller said. Current Evaluation Center partners include the Little Bit Foundation, Missouri Botanical Garden and Washington University’s Gephardt Institute for Public Service.

“Organizations will succeed or fail depending on their ability to evaluate their programs and services, demonstrate outcomes and meet the accountability requirements of funders,” Mueller said. “Through the center, we can partner with organizations to design and implement effective evaluations, strengthen their evaluation capacity and train leaders in evaluation.”