The primary purpose for grouping similar projects together in “clusters” is to bring about more policy or systemic change than would be possible in a single project or in a series of unrelated projects. Cluster evaluation is a means of determining how well the collection of projects fulfills the objectives of systemic change. Projects identified as part of a cluster are periodically brought together at networking conferences to discuss issues of interest to project directors, cluster evaluators, and the Foundation.
Project directors typically know prior to receiving a grant whether they will be expected to participate in a cluster, but occasionally clusters are formed after grants have been made. Therefore, it is important to be familiar with cluster evaluation even if you are not currently participating in a cluster.
In general, we use the information collected through cluster evaluation to enhance the effectiveness of grantmaking, clarify the strategies of major programming initiatives, and inform public policy debates. Cluster evaluation is not a substitute for project-level evaluation, nor do cluster evaluators “evaluate” projects. As stated in the previous section, grantees have responsibility for evaluating their own projects in relationship to their own objectives. Project-level evaluation is focused on project development and outcomes related to the project stakeholders. Cluster evaluation focuses on progress made toward achieving the broad goals of a programming initiative. In short, cluster evaluation looks across a group of projects to identify common threads and themes that, having crossconfirmation, take on greater significance. Cluster evaluators provide feedback on commonalties in program design, as well as innovative methodologies used by projects during the life of the initiative. In addition, cluster evaluators are available to provide technical assistance in evaluation to your project if you request it. Any data collected by project staff that may be useful to the cluster evaluation should be made available to the cluster evaluator. However, we do not want cluster evaluation to become intrusive to projects nor to drive project-level evaluation. Information is reported to the Foundation in an aggregate form that prevents us from linking data to the individual clients or project participants. Perhaps the most important aspect of cluster evaluation is that your project will benefit from lessons learned by other similar projects. In turn, what you learn by conducting your project can be of benefit to others.