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Exploring what motivates evaluation capacity building in early learning services: “What are the children getting out of this?”

Elena F. Moretti

This article describes a research project focused on evaluation capacity building and internal evaluation practice, in a small sample of early learning services in Aotearoa New Zealand. Poor evaluation practice in this context has persisted for several decades, and capacity building attempts have had limited impact. Multiple methods were used to gather data on factors and conditions that motivated successful evaluation capacity building and internal evaluation practice in five unusually high-performing early learning services.
The early learning sector context is described and discussed in relation to existing research on evaluation capacity building in organisations. This is followed by a brief overview of the research methodology for this study, with the majority of the article devoted to findings and areas for future exploration and research. Quotes from the research participants are used to illustrate their views, and the views of the wider early learning sector, on evaluation matters.
Findings suggest that motivation is hindered by a widespread view of internal evaluation as overly demanding and minimally valuable. In addition, some features of the Aotearoa New Zealand early learning context mean that accountability factors are not effective motivators for evaluation capacity building. Early learning service staff are more motivated to engage in evaluation by factors and conditions related to their understandings of personal capability, guidance and support strategies, and the alignment of internal evaluation processes to positive children’s outcomes.
The strength of agreement within the limited sample size and scope of this study, particularly considering the variation in early learning service contexts of the research participants, supports the validity of the findings. Understandings of evaluation capacity building motivators in this context will contribute to discussions related to organisation evaluation, internal evaluation, social-sector evaluation, and evaluation capacity building.

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