Recommendations Without Co-Creation are a Wreck Waiting to Happen

By Cara McFadden

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Objective third party evaluations are the gold standard. Evaluation findings and conclusions should be objective, but what about the resulting recommendations?

Years ago, my team was asked to evaluate an agency’s process for planning, budgeting, implementing, and evaluating performance. We shared our findings, conclusions, and recommendations, in a succinct presentation that accompanied our report. Our clients puzzled over some of recommendations, but agreed to read the report before rushing to judgementA week later, the client called our partnerNot only were our recommendations infeasible, but implementing them would have destroyed the structure and process our clients were trying to create and set the organization back years. Ouch

Where did we fail? We didn’t co-create recommendations. We tried to put ourselves in our client’s shoes, but we didn’t live what they did day in and day out.  


We learned from that experience and changed our approach.  Now, our methodology is to: 

  • Facilitate an in-brief so that staff who will receive the evaluation understand the evaluation’s purpose and timeline and know how to contribute throughout the evaluation and how their aggregate feedback will be shared within findings   

  • Optimize data collection by leveraging digital tools (and avoid in-person data collection during peak vacation times or busy periods) 

  • Deliver findings that capture strengths to preserve, expand, replicate, and optimize—as well as opportunities for improvement. Recognize contributors and their behaviors or actions that drove success 

  • Co-create recommendations with leaders and staff who are responsible for the program, to assess feasibilitydependencies, and political will to implement  

  • Refine recommendations using evidence, best practices, and feedback 

  • Deliver recommendations with an estimated level of effort and suggested priority to help leaders decide which to champion  


When people have an opportunity to contribute to evaluations, they feel heard and are more willing to change. And for the resisters—which there most certainly will be—don’t be afraid to employ a few nudges! 

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