“Effective tidying involves only three essential actions. All you need to do is take the time to examine every item you own, decide whether or not you want to keep it, then choose where to put what you keep. Designate a place for each thing.”
―Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
I’ve noticed a common problem with some proposal evaluation plans: It’s not so much that they don’t include key information; it’s that they lack order. They’re messy. When you have only about two pages of a 15-page National Science Foundation proposal to describe an evaluation, you need to be exceptionally clear and efficient. In this blog, I offer tips on how to “tidy up” your proposal’s evaluation plan to ensure it communicates key information clearly and coherently.
First of all, what does a messy evaluation plan look like? It meanders. It frames the evaluation’s focus in different ways in different places in the proposal, or even within the evaluation section itself, leaving the reviewer confused about the evaluation’s purpose. It discusses data and data collection without indicating what those data will be used to address. It employs different terms to mean the same thing in different places. It makes it hard for reviewers to discern key information from the evaluation plan and understand how that information fits together.
Three Steps to Tidy up a Messy Evaluation Plan
It’s actually pretty easy to convert a messy evaluation plan into a tidy one:
- State the evaluation’s focus succinctly. List three to seven evaluation questions that the evaluation will address. These questions should encompass all of your planned data collection and analysis—no more, no less. Refer to these as needed later in the plan, rather than restating them differently or introducing new topics later in the plan. Do not express the evaluation’s focus in different ways in different places.
- Link the data you plan to collect to the evaluation questions. An efficient way to do this is to present the information in a table. I like to include evaluation questions, indicators, data collection methods and sources, analysis, and interpretation in a single table to clearly show the linkages and convey that my team has carefully thought about how we will answer the evaluation questions. Bonus: Presenting information in a table saves space and makes it easy for reviewers to locate key information. (See EvaluATE’s Evaluation Data Matrix Template.)
- Use straightforward language—consistently. Don’t assume that reviewers will share your definition of evaluation-related terms. Choose your terms carefully and do not vary how you use them throughout the proposal. For example, if you are using the terms measures, metrics, and indicators, ask yourself if you are really referring to different things. If not, stick with one term and use it consistently. If similar words are actually intended to mean different things, include brief definitions to avoid any confusion about your meaning.
Can a Tidy Evaluation Plan Really Change Your Life?
If it moves a very good proposal toward excellent, then yes! In the competitive world of grant funding, every incremental improvement counts and heightens your chances for funding, which can mean life-changing opportunities for the project leaders, evaluators, and—most importantly—individuals who will be served by the project.