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

TAG | Ripple effect mapping

I am Amy Hilgendorf, Associate Director for Engaged Research at the Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For the past three years, I have had the pleasure of convening a community of practice of evaluation practitioners here on our campus. What started with two graduate students and their interest in getting to know evaluators on campus and creating space for learning together, has grown to become much more.

Hot Tip:

A lot of good can come from just a little bit of effort! While there’s a lot you can read out there about communities of practice and how to support them, ours runs with just a few simple practices:

  • Come together regularly (typically once a month)
  • Highlight the work of a member and/or a topic of shared interest for evaluators
  • Provide food and reserve time for networking
  • Help members communicate with one another (like through an email list or with social media)

With just these few practices, we have grown to a network of more than 80 evaluation practitioners, students, and appreciators, and have started to incorporate members not affiliated with the university. I am especially proud of the exchanges we have had in our monthly gatherings, including thoughtful conversations around evaluation ethics enhancing social justice through evaluation practice.

Lesson Learned:

When you build a network of smart and passionate people, valuable developments will rise organically. Through our community of practice, I have learned about approaches and methods I knew little about before, such as Ripple Effect Mapping and critical cartography. We have also gained the inside scoop on AEA’s Graduate Education Diversity Initiative (GEDI) from our university’s resident intern and some of us are working together to coordinate applications to host GEDI’s next year. And this summer, we plan to use some of our time together to develop ideas for how we can build and support a pipeline at our university for more evaluators of diverse and underserved backgrounds.

Cool Trick:

Building relationships, including professional ones, often comes down to getting to know each other and having fun together. So make sure to reserve time and space for networking and fun in a community of practice. One of our best attended sessions has been our summer happy hour at the student union by the lake, with a cold Wisconsin brew in hand.

From our community of practice to yours, thank you.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating The Wisconsin Idea in Action Week coordinated by the LEAD Center. The LEAD (Learning through Evaluation, Adaptation, and Dissemination) Center is housed within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) at the School of EducationUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison and advances the quality of teaching and learning by evaluating the effectiveness and impact of educational innovations, policies, and practices within higher education. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from student and adult evaluators living in and practicing evaluation from the state of WI. 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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I am Scott Chazdon, Evaluation and Research Specialist with the Extension Center for Community Vitality, University of Minnesota. I have gained skills in a process known as Ripple Effect Mapping (REM) to document impacts of Extension community development programs. REM sessions often spur important thinking, connections and work.

REM is a participatory group method that engages program and community stakeholders to retrospectively and visually map the chain of effects resulting from a program or complex collaboration. The REM process combines elements of Appreciative Inquiry, mind mapping, group interviewing, and qualitative data analysis. It is a powerful tool for documenting both the intended and unintended results of a program. It is also a way to engage and re-energize program participants and stakeholders around shared goals.

Rad Resource: A more in-depth introduction to REM is at University of Minnesota Extension feature article on REM – “Ripple effect mapping makes waves in the world of evaluation”

Lesson Learned: What started as a great method for evaluating community leadership programs morphed into a tool for a broad range of programs.

In Minnesota, an effort to document the impact of urban Master Gardeners working in the neighborhoods became a more inclusive and community-driven project that showcased the many different outcomes of the program that may have been overlooked.   Here is a thumbnail graphic of the core section of the Ripple Effect Map from that project.

Rad Resource: You can find full-sized REM graphics at this site University of Minnesota Extension REM Blog

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Lesson Learned: Recruiting the right number and mix of people is crucial in Ripple Effect Mapping. In terms of numbers, these are larger than focus groups, but if you go beyond 20 people you may not be able to include all voices in the process. I prefer groups of 12 to 20 people.

You can invite both direct participants and non-participant stakeholders. This non-participant group can include funders, local elected officials, other influential figures, or representatives of the media.

Lesson Learned: This mix of people creates an insider-outsider dynamic that sometimes leads to game-changing insights about efforts that have already happened, as well as efforts that could happen! That’s why Ripple Effect Mapping makes sense as a developmental evaluation tool.

Rad Resources: To find out more about REM and approaches that can be taken, as well as if might be a tool you can use, take a look at these two articles: 1) Journal of Extension — Using Ripple Effect Mapping to Evaluate Program Impact: Choosing or Combining the Methods That Work Best for You and 2) Journal of Extension — Ripple Effect Mapping: A “Radiant” Way to Capture Program Impacts

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Extension Education Evaluation (EEE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the EEE AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EEE 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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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