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

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Hi all!  I’m Liz Zadnik, Outreach Coordinator and Saturday contributor.  It was almost three years ago that I joined the curating team – I honestly can’t believe how time has flown!  I’ve learned so much and have grown as a writer and evaluator.  It’s been a fantastic experience and I am incredibly grateful to Sheila Robinson for welcoming me to this space.  

In order to give someone else an opportunity to grow and share their insights, this will be my last post as Outreach Coordinator.  

I’ll still be a fan of the blog (obviously!) and may contribute through TIG weeks – but before I go I thought I would offer a little bit more about this experience in case others are interested in becoming a part of the curating team in the future.  

Lesson Learned: I was very nervous when I first came on board – would folks respond to my outreach and agree to write a blog post?  I mean, everyone is so busy and have little to no idea who I am!  Well, I can assure you that was never the case.  People are eager to share their insights (and Hot Tips and Lessons Learned) with others.  People are generous.

Hot Tip: Something that helped me with outreach was to be clear and concise in my ask – all the information was shared up front so practitioners could decide what fit into their schedule and project process.  I’m not a huge fan of form letters, so I tried my best to offer personalized elements, such as acknowledging a recent webinar they facilitated, the start of the academic year, or ask a question about an article they had published.  I know this is “Outreach 101,”  but I found it super important in both generating content and cultivating a community of learning.

Rad Resource:  Sheila Robinson, our Lead Curator, is a brilliant evaluator and passionate advocate for this work.  She inspires me with her boundless energy, attention to detail, and thoughtful leadership.  She has helped me not only become a better writer – I find myself working harder and striving for better personally and professionally.  Whether you become a part of the curating team or remain a faithful reader, you’ll benefit from Sheila’s energy.  I know I have.

Thanks to all of you for sharing your expertise and reflections with me and the blog readership.  Catch you around the eval-osphere!

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.

Hi my name is Jayne Corso and I am the Community Manager for AEA. There are many reasons to start blogging: to share your work and strategies for evaluations; to become an evaluation through leader; to become a stronger writer and explain your thoughts—the reasons can be endless. I have compiled a few tips to help you create an effective blog that resonates with your followers.

Creating a Blog

Hot Tip: Content

First, identify themes, concepts, or trends that relate to your audience or other evaluators. What topics will you highlight in your blog and how will your blog stand out? For example, will your blog focus entirely on data visualization, or trends in evaluation? Once this is decided you can start working on the details.

Next, decide how often you are going to blog. Is your blog going to be a daily blog, weekly blog, or monthly blog? When making this decision, you must look at your content resources and your available time. What can you commit to, and how and from what sources are you going to gather your content?

Hot Tip: Writing

When writing a blog, you want to be aware of tone, length, and formatting. Write in a conversational tone, using personal pronouns whenever possible.  You also don’t want your blog to be too long. Typically a blog post is 1,000 words or less.  In addition, you want to break up long paragraphs or text. Try bullet points, numbered lists, or visuals to make your post more interesting.

Hot Tip: Call to Action

An important aspect of blogging is starting a conversation and obtaining your follower’s feedback. Invite your follower’s to provide their opinions or questions in the comments. This allows your post to have a longer shelf life and helps you engage with other evaluators.

I look forward to reading your blogs on evaluation! Please share your tips or questions in the comments.

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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Hello! I’m Sheila B Robinson, aea365’s Lead Curator and sometimes Saturday contributor. Hey, it’s been awhile since we have talked about evaluators and their blogs! There are more than 60 evaluators out there blogging away, sharing their work, their knowledge, their resources, and their creative ideas. Get to know them!

Some blog daily, some weekly, some monthly, and some even less often that that. Most (if not all) offer the opportunity to subscribe to new posts via email or RSS feed, and interact via comments on their articles.

Hot Tip: It’s easy to find evaluation bloggers!

  1. AEA maintains a list of evaluation bloggers here. Most of these are AEA members.
  2. aea365 has featured a number of bloggers over the years who have written about their blogs and included links to a few of their own favorite posts. Simply type “blogger” in our search box and you’ll find dozens of posts from our “Bloggers Week” series.
  3. Head over to EvalCentral where AEA member Chris Lysy aggregates over 60 evaluation-related blogs. Subscribe to EvalCentral, and you’ll receive a virtual smorgasbord of blog articles on every aspect of evaluation you can imagine. Check out the list of contributing blogs with links to each one if you would rather pick and choose.

Get Involved: Make comments on blog posts to interact with the authors and other readers. It’s easy to connect with blog authors through the comments. Some blog articles generate rich discussions that are as valuable a learning tool as the articles themselves. It’s also a great way to “meet” other evaluators. You never know whose article or comment may become the catalyst for a future collaboration! Blog authors often appreciate the acknowledgement, encouragement, support, and insights their readers share.

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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My name is David Fetterman.  I’m President & CEO of Fetterman & Associates, an international evaluation consulting firm (with 25 years experience at Stanford University) and past-president of the American Evaluation Association (AEA).  I am probably best known for empowerment evaluation work (helping people learn how to evaluate their own programs).  For examples see our blog and an article about empowerment evaluation in the School of Medicine at Stanford University in Academic Medicine, and the book Empowerment Evaluation in the Digital Villages:  Hewlett-Packard’s $15 Million Race Toward Social Justice, Stanford University Press

LGBT-Related Survey

One of my recent evaluations, conducted with my  Stanford School of Medicine students, focused on LGBT curricular training in medical schools throughout the U.S. and Canada.  The results – a median reported time of 5 hours of LGBT-related content in the entire curriculum – were published in this article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). It received considerable attention in the press, in part because it is as much a human rights issue as a medical education issue. I’ll share a few tips and tricks that emerged from conducting and publishing this study.

Hot Tip:  We used an online survey program to ask Deans of Schools of Medicine to evaluate their institutions’ level of coverage of 16 LGBT related topics.  Online survey tools, such as SurveyMonkey, save time and money and sort data almost instantaneously.  Surveying Deans automatically enhances the credibility of findings (especially if findings suggest minimal coverage of the material, as in our case).

Reporting survey findings was as much a social responsibility as a scholarly one.  See Anne Dohrenwend’s challenge to speak out about gay rights in Academic Medicine.

Cool Trick: Videoconferencing programs, including Skype, ooVoo, and Google Hangouts are invaluable tools to facilitate communication with team members at remote sites.  Most team members were located across the country, completing residency requirements.  Videoconferencing allowed us to function remotely and inexpensively.

Rad Resource: The Association of American Medical Colleges maintains a curriculum management and Information (CurrMIT) database that helps you determine the coverage of specific topics in medical schools. This database was particularly useful as a form of triangulation when our reporting format – “reported hours of instruction” – was questioned in a draft of our article.

Recommended LGBT cultural competence resources:

Fenway Health

Institute of Medicine of the National Academies

Lesson Learned:  Be prepared for significant opposition to unpopular or controversial findings.  Be prepared to speak with the press.  Highlight key findings and recommendations simply and concisely and be prepared to see how journalists use the information (see example of highlighted findings in New York Times.)  Appreciate your team and enjoy the media blitz for as long as it lasts.

aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. We’re celebrating LGBT Evaluation week with our colleagues in AEA’s LGBT Topical Interest Group. 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. 

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Hello all, I’m Kim Firth Leonard, American Evaluation Association (AEA) member since 2008, and President of local affiliate OPEN, the Oregon Program Evaluators Network. I currently work at Marylhurst University in Portland, Oregon, primarily on assessment of student learning and academic programs, though I also dabble in institutional research. I also do contract work in program evaluation via Leonard Research and Evaluation LLC.

Rad Resource – actionable data: I started the blog actionable data in 2011 and post somewhat regularly (a few times per month whenever possible) with a handful of friends and co-authors. The blog advocates for the collection of meaningful and useful data, and for wise use of that data. Our posts span a range of topics often related to program evaluation, though most focus more specifically on data and data use.

Hot Tips – favorite posts: Here are a few mostly recent, favorite and/or most visited posts authored by yours truly so far:

Clipped from http://actionabledata.wordpress.com/

Lessons Learned – why I blog: For me, blogging is an opportunity to question, explore, and learn as well as to share what I know. To think together with my co-authors and anyone willing to read (and comment) along with us! A ‘manifesto’ for actionable data is here.

I also ‘micro blog’ on Twitter (@KimFLeonard), which has been a wonderful way to engage others with my blog and to find people who are doing interesting work. Between the blog and Twitter, I have discovered many wonderful resources and connected to other great evaluators (including Sheila B. Robinson, who is graciously co-authoring a series of posts with me).

Lessons Learned – what I’ve learned: How liberating and enlightening it can be to throw an idea online. Or to ponder something ‘out loud.’ And that blogging, especially when accompanied by conversation via social media, can be an amazing networking and learning tool.

This winter, we’re continuing our series highlighting evaluators who blog. 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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My name is Alicia McCoy and I am the Research and Evaluation Manager at Family Life in Melbourne, Australia.  Family Life is a community service organization that offers a diverse range of services for families, children and young people, including family support, counseling, and mediation.

In 2009, Family Life established an internal research and evaluation unit. But building a culture that supports evaluation didn’t follow automatically. It’s taken time, patience, focus, and even a little humour.  It’s important to regularly communicate with staff about the value of research and evaluation.  Here are some of my tips and lessons learned for doing this well.

Lesson learned: It helps to have a channel 

The creation of an internal research and evaluation blog in early 2011 turned out to be one of the greatest contributors to the growing research and evaluation culture at Family Life.  Make your blog highly visible and easily accessible to staff.  Update it regularly to keep it fresh and interesting.

Lesson learned:  Think outside the square

Blogs can be used for much more than just posting and comments.  Ours includes current research and policy information, case studies, program evaluation summaries, an acknowledgements register, key resources, relevant links, and even competitions.  It is a one-stop-shop for anything related to research and evaluation.

Hot tip: Be interactive

All staff members are encouraged to interact with the blog by guest-blogging on topics of interest to them and their work, and by commenting on and discussing the contributions of others.  These entries have been some of the most popular and have motivated others to give it a go.  Have a support process in place for those who are less confident with their blogging skills.

Hot tip: Be creative to boost relevance

Our blog delivers research and evaluation to staff in informal and creative ways. Examples include using a media story to provide context for a piece about a current policy initiative, or using an anecdote to provide the ‘hook’ for an entry on a current research study.  Feedback from staff suggests that these kinds of approaches help them better understand research and evaluation and makes it more interesting. The upshot: they are more likely to use information from evaluations and research studies.

Hot tip: Evaluate your own progress

It can take several months or longer for a blog to become part of a culture, especially if your organization is new to blogging.  It is important to regularly measure the popularity and use of the blog to see how you’re tracking.  Successful blogs will gradually increase the number of monthly visits until the majority of staff are engaged.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Internal Evaluators TIG Week. The contributions all week come from IE 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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluator.

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My name is Catherine (Brehm) Rain, Vice President of Rain & Brehm Consulting Group, Inc., an independent evaluation and consulting firm located in Rockledge, Florida.  I blog at The Evaluation Forum.

Rad Resource – The Evaluation Forum: New to our website, The Evaluation Forum focuses on the why and wherefore of evaluation of health promotion and health-related, risk-reduction programming.  The blog targets program personnel with some or no background in the principles, practices, purposes and benefits of program evaluation. Content is basic, and covers issues such as hiring an evaluator, program design, and fidelity (among other future topics). We post new content monthly and expect to increase frequency of postings this year.

Hot Tips – favorite posts: We added our blog in September of this 2011. Thus far, my two favorite posts are

  • 10/3/2011 7 Qualities of an Effective Universal Program Design  Nine times out of ten, program ‘problems’ are directly related to program ‘design’—or the absence thereof. This blog covers basic qualities of program design and leads readers to one of my favorite places: Theory At a Glance: A Guide to Health Promotion Practice.
  • 12/11/2011 Fiddling with Fidelity? Fidelity means, in a word: faithfulness.  As a former project director and a current evaluation team member specializing in Process Evaluation, I liken adherence to a grant management plan or a program design, to following a recipe for bread pudding.  Yes, you can tweak it here and there, if you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, you might end up as I did, with a batch of botched pudding!

Lessons Learned – why I blog: I blog, because I am first and foremost a writer—I write two other blogs non-related to evaluation.  Chiefly and with relevance to The Evaluation Forum: I blog to bring basic information to clients and program personnel so that they (a) grow their knowledge about evaluation; (b) apply evaluation principles to program design and implementation; and in so doing (c) maximize outcomes.

Lessons Learned: You have to commit to a blog in the same way you do to a subscribed newsletter: often; and whether you have time for it, or not. It is an adjustment.  It also takes time to develop a following—if you want one. Linking posts to our Facebook page has added a ‘friendly community’ factor, as well.  Sometimes, folks are a little shy of evaluation and its impact on their organization or project.  Finding us on-line or on Facebook with helpful hints or solid information they can use meaningfully, may be the first step we can take as professionals to help our clients and community succeed! (It’s also nice to be ‘liked’!)

This winter, we’re running a series highlighting evaluators who blog. 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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Hi! I’m Priya Small, an independent evaluation consultant/subcontractor. I am also an evaluation writer and blogger for the Free Management Library’s Nonprofit Capacity Building blog, hosted by Authenticity Consulting, Inc.

Rad Resource – Blog: Nonprofit Capacity Building: True to its title, this blog focuses on building capacity for nonprofits! All my posts focus on evaluation, though my co-host blogs on other topics. My objective is to post every 1-2 weeks.

 

Hot Tips – Here are our favorite evaluation-related posts.

Lessons Learned – why I blog: I started blogging for the following reasons:

  • To remain actively engaged in continuing my own learning. In my experience, facilitating others’ learning has been the best way to continue my own education.
  • To provide a productive outlet for my passion for evaluation-related writing.
  • To enable others to get to know me as an evaluator and to gradually build relationships that produce collective contributions to our field.

As the blog took off, however, I unconsciously became wholly immersed in capacity-building as an end in itself. It so follows then that my blogging has focused on the typical audiences for capacity-building efforts: motivated stakeholders and evaluation clients. While seeking to engage these groups, and despite the serious tone of my blog, I have had fun blogging!

Lessons Learned: Blogging has provided me with a first-hand appreciation for the work of other evaluator-bloggers. I am in the process of re-learning from them the immense value of simplicity in our communications as evaluators. While most of us have known this for years, this can be a hard lesson to translate into practice, especially for those of us who savor the intricacies of evaluation and its accompanying thought-processes.

As a new blogger, I am realizing that maintaining a blog, especially while juggling evaluation-related responsibilities requires a staunch commitment to the cause. Those who motivate me best are my blog readers and others whom we serve by our writing. Considering their needs, concerns and challenges, drives me to pursue excellence.

This winter, we’re running a series highlighting evaluators who blog. 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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Hi. I am David Fetterman, president and CEO of Fetterman & Associates, an international evaluation consulting firm. I have been at Stanford University for 25 years, serving on the faculty and in administration. Concurrently, I am a professor of education at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and co-director of the Arkansas Evaluation Center. I am a past-president of the American Evaluation Association and serve as co-chair of the Collaborative, Participatory, and Empowerment Evaluation TIG (also accessible here) with Liliana Rodriguez-Campos.

I started on the Internet around 1982 with Bitnet, moved to WWW, and here I am today with you. I blog in order to give voice to empowerment evaluators around the world and record the development of my projects. (The latter is particularly helpful at the end of the year when you are trying to construct the annual report.)

Rad Resource – Empowerment Evaluation Blog. The empowerment evaluation blog describes current projects and announces important empowerment evaluation articles, books, and webinars.

Hot tips – favorite posts: Posts include project descriptions, software, and free manuals used to conduct an empowerment evaluation. My favorite posts are:

  • 10/20/2010 – Canadian Empowerment Evaluation: Malton Community Project. Their work, under the supervision of Dr. Paul Favaro, has been transformative, contributing to collective learning, democratic participation, and action.
  • 9/10/2009 – Empowerment Evaluation Debate. This is a debate between Michael Scriven, Michael Patton, and me. It provides conceptual and methodological clarity about empowerment evaluations.

Lessons Learned: I maintain many projects blogs, such as our tobacco prevention in communities of color blog, used to tell the community’s evaluation story. In addition to my professional blogs, I maintain a family blog. The tone and focus of a blog depends on its purpose.

I have learned many things about blogging.

First, you are responsible for keeping it alive, inviting colleagues, and providing useful information to keep people coming back. You need to continually breath life into them.

Second, you have to monitor posts to minimize the clutter of irrelevant, irreverent, and irritating advertisers. Blogs open to the public invite all sorts of noise. Blogs by invitation restrict posting to a designated group.

Third, you build a world-wide network of colleagues in an amazingly short period of time, often connecting folks working in the same area but living thousands of miles away from each other. Ironically, blogs also connect colleagues living in the same town (but thousands of miles away from me).

This winter, we’re running a series highlighting evaluators who blog. 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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Apr/12

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Bloggers Series: John Gargani on EvalBlog

My name is John Gargani. I direct a program design and evaluation firm called Gargani + Company. I’m based in Berkeley, travel on planes a lot, and am a recidivist blogger.

Rad Resource – EvalBlog.com: EvalBlog was started to promote a simple idea—evaluation has the power to change the world. It is written by me and a growing number of guest bloggers. We focus on three topics—design, evaluation, and visuals. I believe they are the keys to social impact. Oh, and sometimes I try to be funny.

Hot Tips – favorite posts: Here are few of my favorites from EvalBlog.

Visuals

Tragic Graphic: The New York Times Checks Facts, Not Math: This was a popular post. I present two wildly inaccurate graphs from the same issue of the New York Times Magazine. Then I create some accurate alternatives.

Design

Data-Free Evaluation: New solutions don’t come with a great deal of supporting evidence. If we want to develop innovative program designs, we need to learn to conduct data-free evaluation.

Evaluation

Evaluation: An Invisible Giant. Ever wonder how large the field of evaluation is? I take a stab at figuring it out.

Attempts at Humor

The Laws of Evaluation Quality and Quality is a Joke. If these make you smile, you are a real evaluator.

Lessons Learned – why I blog: There is no practical reason for me to blog. I do it because I enjoy it, it connects me to smart readers, and I can share what excites me about evaluation. Some people write notes in the margins of books. I write a blog.

Lessons Learned: Be brief. Be thoughtful. Be done before your clients call.

This winter, we’re running a series highlighting evaluators who blog. 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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