The New Directions grant applied the University’s teaching resources to aid community organizations through a new online professional development course, Successful Program Planning and Evaluations for Nonprofit Organizations. The Great Cities Institute designed this five-week online course for practitioners to learn to design and conduct program evaluations that would improve overall organizational planning and management and to improve their grant proposals.
When the UIC Great Cities Institute offered to teach a professional development course to community organizations, Neighborhoods Initiative partners identified program planning and evaluation as a priority topic. Responding to that request, John Mudd, Associate Director of Professional Education at the UIC Great Cities Institute, said, “We designed a course that does not just address one specific area of evaluation, but all the areas that could really help organizations write grant proposals and plan their programs.” And instead of a traditional delivery method, “The online approach makes it more flexible for people who already have tight schedules, provides for a higher quality of educational materials than we can offer in short workshops, and is easy to institutionalize so we can continue to offer it long after the grant award expires.”
GCI brought in a team of experts from several relevant areas to develop the course. Mudd explained that this was “to really make a crossover between grant writing and program evaluation. We brought those two together to really strengthen these elements. If we’re helping organizations with grant writing and planning, then we’re helping them for the future. We’re not just giving them a class to meet one specific need right now. It’s going to help to meet many of their needs as they move their organizations forward.”
Responsible for the overall design of the course was GCI’s online grant writing instructor, Noah Temaner Jenkins. “In this course,” she explained, “students learn how to create measurable program objectives, to develop and use a logic model for tracking program progress and outcomes, and to create an evaluation report.” Other contributing experts included UIC Urban Planning and Policy Professor Curt Winkle, who also provided an audio guest lecture on logic models; Michael Bennett, an experienced evaluator and Executive Director of the Egan Urban Center at DePaul University, who provided an audio guest lecture on selecting and working with external evaluators; and GCI staff member Sarah Rothschild, who performed much of the research into evaluation literature to help select the best available class materials.
Course evaluations clearly indicate that the course, already offered twice, is achieving its goals.
One student wrote, “I have learned about creating programs in such a way that they will lend themselves to evaluation.” Another, “The logical connection between how a program is implemented and the influence it should have on the community is encapsulated in the process of constructing both the program proposal and the evaluation. Using the logic model and thinking about program planning through these tools allows for a more comprehensive program design. The course readings really gave me a glimpse of how to see how your program will be successful from the outset.”
Several also reported already applying, or planning to apply, their new expertise at their organizations: “My program is already taking a turn for the better since I started taking this course.” “This course was both informative and very timely for me. My organization – and my role therein – are at a crucial stage where so much can be done with just the right amount of direction. I think this course has really provided some groundwork for effective planning and program design, in addition to tools for evaluation.”
“As a result of this course, I will be able to contribute more value to this component of the evaluation process by making sure that we have clarified the goals and objectives of our evaluation activities right from the beginning…and then selecting the appropriate methods for collecting, analyzing, and reporting that information.”
The Great Cities Institute will continue to offer this online course twice a year.