Skip to main content

Cooking Up Successful Long-term Partnerships

By Kim Ammann Howard

Strong partnerships with our clients are essential to our collective success. This is especially true with long-term evaluations, which unfold over time as their focus, needs and contexts change. For these partnerships to be most effective, we have noted a few essentials ingredients.

Essential Ingredient #1: Thought Partnership

It is critical that both the client and evaluator approach one another as thought partners, regardless of their specific roles. Partnerships must be built on mutual trust and respect with different perspectives and experiences recognized and utilized. This sets the stage for direct, transparent, and sometimes difficult but necessary conversations (e.g., sharing and discussing undesirable findings). It also facilitates each partners’ willingness to take risks and innovate in how they think about and approach their work.

Essential Ingredient #2: Ongoing Mutual Engagement

Ongoing mutual engagement with partners is essential for evaluations. This involves us regularly coming together with our client for reflection, learning and decision making to ensure that the evaluation focus, processes, findings and products continue to most effectively inform each partner’s work. An added benefit of this type of engagement is that it typically informs other related efforts (e.g., the next grantmaking program, policy application of evaluation findings). While engagement with our partners takes different forms throughout an evaluation (e.g., in terms of amount of time and processes), its ongoing nature is critical, even when schedules and other demands make it seem impossible.

Essential Ingredient #3: Adaptation

It is important to be open to adapting aspects of the evaluation so that the work remains relevant and useful. This is particularly true with multi-year partnerships where the need for some constants to maintain rigor is balanced with flexibility to address changing needs. We have accommodated this in our partnerships by switching emphasis from process to outcome evaluation as the intervention matures; maintaining continuity in some areas of inquiry (e.g., key outcome measures) while focusing on new areas of questioning; and using different formats to share findings to reach a variety of internal and external audiences (e.g., PowerPoint Decks, data dashboards, issue briefs and video storytelling).