Federation of State Humanities Councils: Building Capacity for Evaluation


Team: John Carnwath, Alan Brown

To strengthen the position of State Humanities Councils around the country, the Federation of State Humanities Councils (FSHC), in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), identified building capacity for impact assessment and evaluation as a priority area for investment. Through a competitive RFP process, FSHC selected WolfBrown to undertake a planning process to engage with member Councils in designing a program of capacity building and identifying promising directions for collaboration on multi-site impact and evaluation studies.

The project’s core questions asked:

  • What capacities (i.e., technical knowledge and capabilities to act on that knowledge) are we trying to build amongst member Councils? Is it reasonable to expect that all Councils, once provided with knowledge and information about best practices in evaluation and impact assessment, will actually use those newly acquired capabilities to better their practices? If not, what ongoing support will be needed?
  • Given the diverse programs and capabilities of the 56 Councils, what approaches to cohort learning are most likely to succeed? Are there existing “centers of expertise” within the cohort that might be leveraged and incorporated into the plan?
  • What are the most promising opportunities for collaborative study of program impacts? Is it possible for the Federation to accumulate evidence of impact from a range of evaluations, and thereby prevent Councils from doing unnecessary evaluation work in the future?

The work was accomplish through a series of consultations and desk research, including:

  1. Taking stock of current impact measurement and reporting practices (review past surveys, consultations with Councils), and looking for:
    • Opportunities to standardize data collection and reporting;
    • Best practices currently in use that are suitable for more widespread adoption;
    • Areas in which innovation is possible and needed.
  2. Testing the desirability, feasibility, and viability of implementing the various possible options;
  3. Proposing recommendations for practical implementation.

The final recommendations covered theoretical frameworks for impact assessment, technical tools and approaches for impact measurement, and approaches to staff training and professional development.