Internal Evaluation Week: Debbie Cohen on Working with External Evaluators
Hi, my name is Debbie Cohen. I am the Director of Evaluation at Community Mental Health Center, Inc., a community mental health center that serves five rural counties in Southeastern Indiana. One of my roles in the agency is to work with Indiana University to evaluate a Systems of Care collaborative that involves children utilizing the child serving systems in eight rural counties of Southeastern Indiana. Here are tips related to internal and external evaluators working together.
Hot Tip #1: Advantages of Combining Forces
Internal evaluators have an advantage over external evaluators since they work in the environment in which the program operates and may have been personally involved in some part of the program planning, however the external evaluator can offer a specialist expertise and greater objectivity.
Hot Tip #2: Regular Communication
Every Monday morning I talk to my primary contact at Indiana University. This call is rarely cancelled and we even have it via cell phones if one or both of us are out of the office that day. This call is very important and keeps both sides in the loop.
Hot Tip #3: Work as a Team
Even though there needs to be a line between what information is shared between an external and internal evaluator, it is helpful to approach the evaluation as a team. The internal evaluator may have access to information or community resources that an outsider is unaware of. On the flip side, an external evaluator may have university resources or other assets that could be helpful at an agency level.
Hot Tip #4: The Relationship Will Pay Off
A close working relationship between the internal and external evaluator will reap many benefits for both. The external evaluator who works closely with internal evaluator will have a much clearer sense of how the program functions and will be in a much better position to provide useful feedback. Additionally program staff are much more likely to trust the internal evaluator and may be more welcoming to the external evaluation process if an internal staff member is bringing the group together.