Validate and Classify Practices

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A thorough validation process involves the review of both subjective and objective data points. There are two methods of assessment that you can use to verify and classify practices — a comparative review or a peer review. In identifying which method or combination of methods may be the best fit for your organization, you may want to conduct some preliminary research to determine what measures are available or what standards or guidelines exist to help qualify the practice. Regardless as to which review process you choose, at the end of this step, you will have classified your finding as a best, promising, or innovative practice.

Draw on both subjective and objective data to validate practices.

To get a holistic view of the practice's effectiveness, you'll want to draw on a combination of subjective and objective data. Subjective data is often more self-reported or qualitative in nature. Sources for obtaining subjective data can include internal reviews, assessments, and feedback from management and staff or customers/beneficiaries. Objective data, on the other hand, is gathered from both internal and external sources that can provide objective bases for comparing the success of the practice through like-kind analysis. Sources for obtaining objective data can include subject matter experts, external auditors, consultants, research evidence, and independent evaluations.

Validate results through a comparative review.

A comparative review draws primarily on objective data sources to compare the practices unearthed in the programmatic/organizational review with similar practices of other organizations. A comparative review validates the results of the programmatic or organizational review through comparison to data gathered from sources external to the organization. Potential sources for comparative data include:

  • National, regional, or local benchmark data
  • Case studies of organizational performance
  • Comparative/competitive market analysis
  • Academic research
Click to open interactivity Weigh the strengths and weaknesses of a comparative review.

Weigh the strengths and weaknesses of a comparative review.

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Build organizational ownership through peer reviews.

A peer review draws on the judgment of peers and other practitioner organizations to analyze and affirm the findings of the programmatic/organizational review of the practice. This is accomplished through the presentation of documented review findings to a number of peers to determine if the findings "hold up" and meet with the general consensus of the practitioner community. The goal is to determine if there is agreement among practitioners that the practice qualifies as either a best or promising practice.

The peer review is a critical step in the assessment process in terms of building organizational ownership for the practice, as a practice that has received consensus among a nonprofit community of peers is far more likely to be embraced and incorporated into organizational operations.

Click to open interactivity Weigh the strengths and weaknesses of a peer review.

Weigh the strengths and weaknesses of a peer review.

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Maintain realistic expectations, but strive for improvement.

Within the nonprofit sector, practices are often classified as promising or innovative due to the limited availability of evaluation data and quantifiable results. However, nonprofit organizations should consistently evaluate the effectiveness of practices implemented and reevaluate their classification. When validating a practice, consider what data points and indicators will prove that the practice is successful and effective. Track these data points and strive to identify evidence-based practices that draw on concrete performance indicators.

For organizations that want to try to validate a practice with the rigor usually reserved for corporate or academic settings, a formal evaluation or research component is the next step. A formal evaluation, often conducted by an academic institution or private consultant, is essential to make the claim that a practice is evidence-based and validated through research. For many nonprofit organizations, formal evaluations to validate practices are not feasible, as the process requires extensive time and resources. However, large nonprofits that are striving to set the benchmark and remain on the cutting edge in their service area may find that a formal evaluation of practices is worth the investment.