Best Starts Capacity Building: Data and Evaluation

Best Starts for Kids is investing in a number of capacity building efforts. This is a series to explain what we mean by capacity building and why we think it is so important. You can find all earlier blog posts in the series linked at the end of this post. Today we discuss the importance of data and evaluation capacity building especially in light of how data has too often been used punitively against communities.

Let’s flip the data script

There are many success stories in the world of data and evaluation.  However, many organizations have had negative experiences, or even had data or evaluation used punitively against them: A funder telling them that their programs aren’t “evidence-based enough,” or that there isn’t the data to justify the needs or the opportunities they see in their own communities.

At Best Starts for Kids we are working to flip this script. We believe that data and evaluation are powerful tools; we used the latest data in developmental brain science to design Best Starts implementation and we are evaluating our own investments to learn from what’s working. And they are tools that our community partners should be able to use in the ways they choose, to help further their missions and goals. That’s why we’re providing capacity building and support related to data and evaluation.

One clear goal is for all of our funded partners to have the ability to participate in required evaluation of their Best Starts for Kids programs. To this end, Best Starts staff and partners like Cardea Services and ML Whalen Consulting have been working with organizations, one on one and as learning communities, to co-develop evaluation and performance measurement plans and to build the infrastructure needed to carry out those plans – read more about this work here!

Best Starts partners have told us that they find this type of individualized technical support extremely valuable. Implementing data collection requirements from funders is often one of the most challenging aspects of accepting grants, and many CBOs have had to do this with their own resources in the past. With these additional resources, program staff are able to focus their time and expertise on things they are passionate about: serving their community. The internal Best Starts Data and Evaluation team also benefits by developing new relationships with capacity building providers, learning about the needs for technical support, and seeing improvements in data quality.

In addition to participating in Best Starts evaluation, we also have a bigger vision: that our partners can use data and evaluation in the ways they want, to strengthen their organizations, improve their services, and communicate their impact. That’s why in addition to providing technical support focused on specific Best Starts-related projects, we’re rolling out broader capacity building that is relevant to, but goes beyond, the scope of Best Starts-specific performance measurement. Solid data infrastructure and skills can help an organization understand who they are serving and how well; gather input from clients and community members; and tell their story! Organizations are often asked to use data when applying for funding, but data can also be a useful part of sharing work back to the community as well as in communicating with the media, advocating to decision-makers, and more.

A few examples include providing one-on-one consultation and webinars on developing client and community surveys, and trainings on gathering qualitative data through interviews and focus groups.

This webinar was created to help applicants for Best Starts funding use data to tell compelling stories. But many of these tips are excellent for other uses too!

In 2020, we’ll be offering more capacity-building around data and evaluation through our capacity-building consultants. We’re also excited to share a series of free workshops, open to King County communities, provided through a partnership between Communities of Opportunity and Communities Count! Check them out and keep posted for future workshop announcement at and be in touch with us at with any questions!

Previous blog posts in our Capacity Building series:

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