Methods for Evaluating Parent Leadership Initiatives

Traditional evaluation methods may not always be the best fit for parent leadership initiatives, which tend to constantly change and evolve, as they respond to the strengths and needs of communities. Additionally, because these initiatives also seek to lift up the voices of parents, “top-down” evaluation methods are often misaligned with the spirit of parent leadership.

Instead, participatory evaluation, culturally responsive evaluation, and developmental evaluation are approaches to consider for evaluating parent leadership initiatives. 

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Evaluation Approaches

Participatory Evaluation

Participatory evaluation engages the stakeholders of an initiative in the evaluation process from designing the evaluation to reporting of findings.

Culturally Responsive Evaluation

Culturally responsive evaluation is sometimes participatory but also focuses on equity and the distribution of power within the program or initiative. 

Developmental Evaluation

Evaluation Methods

The evaluation methods listed below include those that are suitable for participatory, culturally responsive, and developmental evaluation approaches, as well as measuring changes in communities. A method is a way of measuring something, whereas an approach is a belief about how evaluation should be done.

When to Use Which Method -- Alignment with Theory of Change

Program/Initiative Level 

Evaluation Question: What does our initiative do (activities, approaches) and believe (values, mission)?
Best method(s): Document review; Observation

Evaluation Question: What is our initiative doing well? What could be improved?
Best method(s): Appreciative inquiry; Interviews with participants and staff

Evaluation Question: What elements of our program matter most in order to see positive outcomes?
Best method(s): Contribution analysis; Surveys (analysis of relationship between experiences and outcomes)

Personal Transformation

Evaluation Question: What is the impact of our initiative on the personal and civic development of parents and alumni?
Best method(s): Pre-post surveys; Interviews; Focus Groups; Storytelling

Evaluation Question: Have relationships among parent leaders and between parent leaders and other community members strengthened as a result of the initiative? How so?
Best method(s): Social network analysis; Social frameworks

Collective Action

Evaluation Question: How do groups of parents work together to effect change? How effective are these strategies?
Best methods: Advocacy evaluation; Frame analysis; Intense Period Debriefs; Trend mapping

Public Officials / Community Leaders

Evaluation Question: How has our initiative influenced public officials and other positional leaders?
Best methods: Interviews; Focus Groups; Advocacy evaluation; Measuring composition

Civic Climate

Evaluation Question: How has the community changed? How have policies, practices, and narratives changed?
Best methods: Ripple Effect Mapping; Timeline Mapping

Descriptions of Methods, Further Reading, and Tools

Advocacy Evaluation

Advocacy evaluation is the process of evaluating the progress of advocacy efforts and/or the impact of advocacy efforts on the political process.

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative inquiry is a method drawn from developmental evaluations that asks participants and evaluators to begin from what is working in an initiative, rather than what is not working.

Contribution Analysis

Contribution analysis offers a step-by-step approach designed to help draw conclusions about the contribution(s) an initiative is/has made to particular outcomes.

Document Review

Document review is a relatively unobtrusive and inexpensive way to better understand an organization or program through collecting and reviewing existing documents.

Focus Groups

A focus group is a small group discussion on a particular topic facilitated by a trained individual.

Frame Analysis

Frame analysis can help document the extent to which parent leaders advance coherent messages about the issues that matter to them and how and whether they are shifting the perceptions of public officials and positional leaders. Frame analysis is also useful in evaluating how effectively parent leaders make use of media in collective action campaigns.

Intense Period Debriefs

These interviews or focus groups capture reflections after intense periods of activity related to an advocacy or organizing campaign.


Interviews are structured conversations with a purpose.

Measuring Composition

Measuring composition is a way to understand the variety of constituencies who are actively participating in advocacy and their influence in a field.


Observation is a systematic data collection approach to examine and record the processes, activities and outcomes of programs and initiatives.

Ripple Effect Mapping

Ripple effect mapping uses appreciative inquiry techniques to identify a range of important outcomes and impacts that participants (and other stakeholders) have experienced as part of an initiative.

Social Frameworks

Social frameworks are an alternative to traditional logic models and theories of change. Rather than illustrating logical connections over time between activities, inputs, outputs, and outcomes/impacts, a social framework describes the expected pathway(s) of influence through a series of actors or groups.

Social Network Analysis

Social network analysis examines connections and relationships.


A qualitative method of inquiry that allows participants to share their lived experiences using their own voices.


A survey is an instrument used to gather a lot of data from many people by asking questions and providing answer choices

Timeline Mapping

Timeline mapping is a tool for evaluating change in complex systems that can be helpful for documenting collective action and advocacy.

Trend Mapping

Trend mapping is a method for identifying and exploring the trends, relationships, and social, political and cultural factors that influence a particular topic.