EMCF believes that rigorous evaluation provides the most persuasive evidence that a program is effective and, equally important, can help make it more effective.

A broad evidence base instills confidence not only that an organization’s program works, but also that it can be replicated and expanded to achieve similar results elsewhere. Because we believe it is so important, EMCF is committed to helping fund evaluations of our grantees’ programs, and to evaluating our own performance as well.

In an ideal world, an experimental evaluation or randomized controlled trial (RCT), which compares participants in a program to a randomly assigned control group of peers who do not participate, provides the highest standard of proof and level of confidence that a program works.

However, in the real world, an RCT may not always be feasible.

In such circumstances, a third-party, quasi-experimental evaluation comparing participants to a comparison group that is not randomly assigned may represent the highest proof point a program is capable of reaching at that time.

Not every promising program needs to be or can be evaluated independently from the very outset. Yet our experience suggests that the earlier an organization embraces data collection, performance measurement and evaluation, the more readily it can encourage a culture of learning and continual improvement, and the better prepared it is to grow with quality and extend its impact. That's why we seek to 1) build capacity for data collection, and 2) help every grantee advance toward the most rigorous evaluation it is capable of undertaking.


  • Unlocking the Potential of the “What Works” Approach

    EMCF adviser Robert Granger co-authors in American Journal of Evaluation recommendations for improving evaluations.

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  • Getting the Most out of Evaluation

    In Nonprofit Quarterly, EMCF's Kelly Fitzsimmons outlines the challenges and opportunities of evidence-building.

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  • A Funder’s Guide to Using Evidence

    Practical advice from MDRC on how to weigh evidence when considering opportunities to scale social programs.

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Evaluation is only a part of building a robust evidence base. Even if an organization has proven the impact of a program with an RCT, it must continue to test itself and use the results to improve the program and adjust it to meet the needs of different communities and populations.