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GSNE Week: Laura Sundstrom and Megan Elyse Williams on Intentionally Developing Skills in New Evaluators: The Tier Approach

Hello! We are Laura Sundstrom and Megan Elyse Williams, Evaluation Associates at the Curtis Center Program Evaluation Group (CC-PEG) at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

At CC-PEG, we train Master of Social Work students in program evaluation through providing high-quality evaluation services to community-based organizations.  Our students enter our unit with a variety of experiences and skills.  When we were first growing our center, students would get assigned to tasks that were beyond their skill level out of project need.  As a result, we developed the Tiers of Skill Development to guide students logically and intentionally through their skill development and professional preparation.

Hot Tip: Make it applicable for your context. We developed these Tiers based on the skills needed to be successful within our Center.  Your organization may value different skills or use a different order of development.

Cool Trick: There are many uses for the Tiers – be creative!

  • Orientation to evaluation. Helping students understand all of the different components and skills that go into evaluation practice.
  • Supervision and mentoring. Working with students to assess their self-efficacy in these skills and where they have practiced these skills in project work.
  • Project management. Helping lead evaluators assign tasks that challenge students but are not out of their reach.
  • Identifying trainings. Skills that many students have not had a chance to develop may be appropriate for a larger training.
  • Personal development. Assisting students in their professional development, advocating for their own learning, and in their job search.

Lessons Learned: After using the Tiers for over a year, we have learned a lot!

  • Project work cuts across the tiers. Students don’t have to complete one full tier before moving on to the next. They can develop skills in certain strands of work – such as qualitative data collection and analysis.
  • Response set is important for understanding “mastery” of a skill. Highest level on the Tiers is “can teach someone else to do it.”  This helps contextualize for students what “mastery” of skill means in the professional world.
  • Identify peer support. Identify students that are ready to work towards “mastery” of a skill and pair them for peer support with another student who needs training.
  • Skill development rather than self-efficacy. The Tiers focus on demonstrating skill development rather than reporting self-efficacy.  Students will be able to point to specific tasks where they practiced a skill instead of saying they are confident in their skill level.

SundstromAEA is celebrating GSNE Week with our colleagues in the Graduate Student and New Evaluators AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our GSNE TIG members. 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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  • Nicole Clark, LMSW · January 5, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    I attended Megan and Laura’s presentation on the Tiers, and I’ve found this tool to be not only useful for budding evaluators, but also for experienced evaluators to spruce up our skills!


  • Debi Lang · January 5, 2016 at 11:21 am

    I’m interested in how and why you chose the 6-point rating scale for the levels of attainment. Any references would be appreciated.


  • Chad Green · January 5, 2016 at 8:44 am

    Excellent article. Thanks for posting!


  • Brenda Sheik · January 4, 2016 at 10:44 pm

    Well done and a great too for new and experienced evaluators!


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