The UNM Evaluation Lab Summer Institute brought in non-profits from across New Mexico to learn more about gauging the effectiveness of processes within their organizations. This is the second annual Summer Institute and more than 20 non-profits took part, from Albuquerque, Roswell, Santa Fe, Santa Ana Pueblo, Hobbs and Los Alamos.

“We’re very pleased at the turn-out this year, especially since some organizations sent new teams to learn the evaluation process,” said director of Evaluation Lab and UNM Economics Professor Melissa Binder. “That shows that groups are finding value in what we’re teaching them and are willing to commit more resources to broadening their understanding of evaluation.”

Groups going through the training for the first time agree, saying learning fundamental ways to strategically assess their goals is helping prepare them for future successes. Tobosa Developmental Services in Roswell send three members to this year’s Institute.

“This has really helped us see where we are now as a non-profit, and where we want to be in the future,” said Jessica Dunn, Director of Program Supports Coordinator for Tobosa.

The UNM Evaluation Lab originated as a way to use the analytical skills of academia to service community organizations. Evaluation Lab is a required program for Master in Public Policy students.  Students from many other departments also participate, including economics, sociology, political science, statistics, public administration, educational leadership, community and regional planning, water resources and OILS. The lab provides practical experience to UNM graduate students, by partnering them with local nonprofits. The Evaluation Lab students collaboratively help nonprofits through the evaluation process, allowing them to provide more comprehensive data to stakeholders.

What started in the classrooms at UNM soon expanded to include community groups, organizers held the first Evaluation Lab Summer Institute in 2018. The 5-day event focused on constructing ongoing and sustainable evaluation processes in non-profit groups.

The Tabosa team learned about the Summer Institute and knew it could help them better understand how to prioritize resources. Tabosa provides training support for people with developmental disabilities to better pursue their life goals and serves clients from birth to three years old and adults 21 and older through a variety of services throughout Chavez County.

“We’ve been doing strategic planning for many many years, but it became very clear to us that we have a very broken system,” said Rosy Rubio, CEO and Executive Director of Tobosa. “Our employees get so buy on a day-to-day basis that we fail to keep tabs on our strategic goals – which we could be using as a guideline for our programs and services.”

By utilizing the skills, they learned at the Evaluation Lab Summer Institute, the group whittled their strategic plan down to four main goals and anticipate being much more focused and productive.

“This has been incredibly beneficial for us as a team,” Rubio concluded. “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, but at least we have our goals and can apply our rubrics and assessments to help steer our process.”