Impact and evaluation of the third sector

Briefing and working paper series: No. 27

Impact and evaluation of the third sector: reviewing literature and exploring ideas

The topic of impact and evaluation of the third sector refers to a wide range of issues, which engages several groups of stakeholders. This paper reviews material presented by TSOs, funders, and academics with the aim of outlining the way evaluation is practiced, experienced and discussed. The paper identifies ways of understanding the complexities involved in negotiating frameworks of evaluation.

Recent studies reveal that third sector organisations and funders experience a great deal of frustration and tension due to a mismatch of expectations and poor communication. Some of this relates to manageable problems, which can be remedied by increasing the capacity of organisations to manage evaluations and improving communication between stakeholders. Some problems can be addressed by enhanced knowledge of methodological challenges, particularly related to the assessment of normative goals. However, the developments of new frameworks and tools forevaluation are not primarily underlined by managerial and methodological advancement, but is characterised by negotiations over contested ideas.

This relational challenge refers to stakeholder interactions. Appreciating how power, politics and disputes characterise these relations becomes essential in order to understand actions and interactions within the evaluation arena of the third sector today. Concepts such as accountability, legitimacy, trust, and integrity can help us to unpick the meaning of this relational challenge. They can also help us to understand some of the implications that formal evaluation frameworks might have on third sector organisations.

Research contact
Dr Malin Arvidson