Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid

Standard 2.11 on Provider Evaluation

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Standard

A provider should regularly evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations and its response to the legal needs of the low income communities it serves.

Commentary

General considerations

A legal aid provider should regularly review its operations to determine if it is functioning efficiently and effectively, is producing high quality legal work and is accomplishing its objectives on behalf of low income persons. The overall goal of its assessments should be to support forward-looking and judicious management which attends to the organization's weaknesses and reinforces its strengths.

The provider has a primary responsibility for the ongoing evaluation of itself and should conduct its own assessments consistent with this Standard and commentary. The provider's funding sources also have an interest in assessing whether their funds are being used effectively and in compliance with the terms of the grant of contract. Evaluations conducted by a funder can be an important source of information for a provider and it should cooperate in such evaluations and take advantage of the insights derived from them.

Evaluation purposes

There are several potential purposes which evaluations can serve:

  • To improve the provider's operations. A fundamental purpose of evaluation is to examine how effectively the provider or a specific project or initiative is functioning in order to make informed decisions about adjustments that might be appropriate. To meet this purpose, assessments should examine whether the provider or its projects are operating according to stated plans, whether they are accomplishing the objectives set out for them, or whether staff and others involved have the requisite skills and substantive knowledge for them to succeed.
  • To determine if its delivery approaches are succeeding. To be effective, a provider has a responsibility to learn about new delivery techniques and to experiment with new approaches to serving its low income communities. In determining its approach to serving its constituents, the provider will make a number of choices regarding the appropriate balance between limited and full representation, assistance to pro se litigants, community legal education, and various models for delivering each. It should regularly assess whether its efforts are accomplishing useful and lasting outcomes for those whom it assists and if it is successfully responding to the most compelling needs of the low income communities it serves.
  • To test the success of innovative delivery techniques. An effective provider will engage in innovative approaches to serving its clients utilizing a number of techniques, including new technologies. The provider should evaluate its innovative efforts to determine if they are accomplishing the intended outcomes and are cost-effective. Such an evaluation is particularly valuable when the provider is considering whether an innovative approach should be made permanent or expanded.
  • To inform planning and budgeting. Evaluations also can be important to inform planning and budgeting, and to guide the allocation of the provider's resources. Many strategies for serving clients or for using technology involve significant choices for a provider in terms of deployment of staff and expenditure of funds. Evaluations are an important source of information to the organization about the effectiveness of its allocation of these resources and to guide future choices.
  • To inform training plans. A number of factors help shape a provider's training plans, but conclusions of an evaluation are one useful source. Evaluations may identify needs for training in substantive knowledge and practice skills as well as other areas a provider might not otherwise identify, such as management skills, cultural competence, effectively dealing with diversity and utilization of technology.
  • To demonstrate accountability. External and internal self evaluations are often the key to demonstrating that a project or initiative has met its goals and accomplished its objectives. This may be required by a funding source or initiated by the provider to support requests for additional funding.
  • To obtain and increase funding. Innovative initiatives that attract funding are often based on claims regarding the results that they will achieve. Measuring and demonstrating the actual benefits and results are often key to obtaining future grants from the same or other sources.
  • To help build a constituency. Evaluations can sometimes be instrumental in demonstrating the benefit of a project or initiative to community organizations or key individuals in order to gain their support or collaboration.

Approaches to self evaluation

A variety of techniques may be employed to assess a provider's operations. These range from internal reporting systems that regularly supply management and the governing body with information about provider activities to internally conducted formal evaluations of projects and initiatives to formal review by outside evaluators. An evaluation may involve a full assessment of every aspect of the provider's operation or may focus on specific projects or components.

The frequency and scope of an evaluation is a function in part of the purpose it is designed to serve. Full evaluations of the provider are costly and need to occur only every several years. Some projects or special initiatives, on the other hand, may call for ongoing monitoring by the provider. Many funding sources periodically review the operation of their recipients. Reports from such evaluations serve as a useful source of information to a provider regarding its effectiveness.

Evaluation of internal operations. A provider should regularly conduct internal evaluations as a management tool. Many aspects of provider operation addressed in these Standards call for the provider to assess the effectiveness of its efforts in the area. This is particularly important with regard to the delivery approaches that the provider adopts to respond to the needs of the low income communities that it serves. A provider should regularly assess whether its staff, particularly its practitioners have the necessary skills and substantive knowledge. It should assess the effectiveness of its delivery approaches involving full representation, limited representation, assistance to pro se litigants, and community legal education.

Other facets of its operation should also be assessed by the provider, including intake, its effort to integrate the resources of the legal profession and to involve members of the bar, its cultural competence, its capacity to serve persons with limited English proficiency, its relations with clients, its accessibility to potential clients, its internal systems and procedures, and its methods for quality