AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

Mar/13

29

Caryn Mohr on Connecting Primary Research to Community Indicators

Hello! I am Caryn Mohr, a Research Scientist at Wilder Research in St. Paul. I’m one of more than 40 researchers in the office who conduct primary research. My own work focuses on education programs addressing opportunity and achievement gaps. Our office also manages Minnesota Compass, a nationally recognized community indicators project. Opportunities to collaborate with Compass staff have shown me the power of connecting primary research to community indicators data.

Those of us who conduct primary research gather new data first-hand. We use a variety of methods to evaluate the impact of individual programs and test research hypotheses. My own work ranges from case studies to long-term, quasi-experimental studies of education programs. We administer surveys, conduct interviews, convene focus groups, and employ a variety of methods that give us deep and direct knowledge of study participants’ experiences. We work closely with individual programs and organizations to help them understand their impact.

My colleagues at Minnesota Compass help us see the big picture. Compass provides a common framework for measuring and tracking state and local progress on a range of topics, including education, the economy, health, housing, and other important social issues. In each area, an advisory committee of stakeholders identified key indicators which are monitored over time to understand the health and progress of our community.

Lessons learned:

  • See the big picture. Considering results of individual program evaluations in the context of community indicators provides a broader perspective and meaningful context to stakeholders. For example, results of a recent STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education program evaluation can be considered in the context of indicators of progress along the STEM cradle-to-career continuum. This context can help program staff consider their goals in relation to benchmarks and gaps pertinent to the continuum. Connections to indicators afford exploration of questions such as: How do program goals relate to research-based benchmarks and community needs? Are resources being targeted effectively?
  • Identify themes. Considering study results in the context of community indicators can help researchers identify meaningful themes across individual program evaluations. In education, our community indicators show stark achievement gaps. It is important to consider what our first-hand knowledge of individual programs tells us about addressing these gaps, and how this relates to research literature and community needs. Moving the needle on indicators requires understanding how programs work on the ground. Likewise, effectively targeting program resources necessitates an understanding of community needs.

Hot tip:

Explore connections to community indicators to provide meaningful context to individual program evaluations.

Rad Resources:

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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