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

TAG | rural

Greetings! My name is kas aruskevich and I am principal of Evaluation Research Associates LLC. I live in Fairbanks and work primarily in rural Alaska. Alaska is known for its great natural beauty, extreme temperatures, and unique context of diverse and far-flung communities assessable only by air. Alaska is the largest state in the U.S.

Alaska map

Rural communities often have a small population and rarely have a local evaluator for hire. Consequently, a program evaluator is most often hired from outside the community or region. Helicopter evaluation is a depreciating term used to describe a drop in – evaluate – depart approach. Today’s post talks about methods to strengthen and add depth to evaluations that involve distance between evaluator and evaluand.

Hot Tip: First, context is important. Familiarize yourself with the community and region before you travel. Gather demographic data of the community, leading industry, and cultural composition. Learn about the organization hosting the program, before your first contact. Plan your site-visit around a community event so you can see the community in a broader context.

Rad Resource: The importance of context is discussed in New Directions for Evaluation Fall 2012, Issue 135.

Hot Tip: Next, work to build open communication with program staff. Begin with a teleconference to provide an opportunity to meet staff and organization and discuss program status. Teleconferences also give you a chance to describe your evaluation style and see if you are a ‘fit’ for the organization and the evaluation project.

ALWAYS include participatory methods. I don’t ‘come in’ as the expert with an unchangeable evaluation design, but instead write up suggestions for the evaluation to negotiate before a plan is finalized. As an itinerant evaluator you can’t be on site as often as you might like. Using a participatory evaluation approach, program staff can be involved in the evaluation through taking photos or identifying program participants or stakeholders to interview.

Rad Resource – Read more about participatory evaluation in Cousins and Chouinard’s new book Participatory Evaluation Up Close.

Hot Tip: Lastly, work to build a friendly relationship based on mutual interests with at least one person in the organization or community. After years of conducting evaluations, friendly relationships have evolved into continuing friendships. These friendships have mutual benefits, in-part, they are a bridge for the evaluator to learn community specific cultural protocols–very important to conduct evaluations in cross-cultural settings – which in turn can strengthen the program through appropriate evaluation.

Lesson Learned: Itinerant evaluation can be much more than a helicopter site-visit approach. Regular communication and working together with program staff as a team can expand the evaluative evidence collected and increase report credibility, relevance, and use by the program staff.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Alaska Evaluation Network (AKEN) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from AKEN 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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Greetings from Kentucky, the land of national basketball championships.  My name is Vanessa Prier Jackson and I a professor of retailing in the School of Human Environmental Sciences in the department of Merchandising Apparel and Textiles at the University of Kentucky.

For the last three years I have become very interested in qualitative research in the development of small business development and sustainability.  I find it fascinating to go out in the community, meet with small business owners and find out firsthand what really influences their business resiliency.  Through readings and research I have identified training, reciprocity between businesses and communities, and social responsibility as important methods of resiliency for small businesses in rural communities.

Being that qualitative research is new to me, I pondered how to proceed with my research. I had experienced many stumbling blocks as I walked through the processes of data collection on social responsibility. As we began to process the data, I wondered to myself, “what does this data offer to the literature, and how can I use the data to continue my research”? It was a humbling experience.

Lessons Learned:

  • I learned that qualitative research requires many steps to make sure your data is useful to the researcher and to the community you seek to serve. According to Carolyn Nicholls (2011) “When a piece of research is undertaken, there are many factors that need to be considered enroute to determining which method or methods will most suitably reveal the information or experience”.
  • Interest in a topic can lead to the collection of a great deal of information, but it is how you are able to use the information you collect. The question to address is, “will the information advance my research and will it be useful”? It is through careful evaluation of qualitative methodology that this can be assured.

Hot Tips:

  • Consider the importance of your research project and what it contributes to the literature. Will your methodology allow for the usefulness of information collected? Review your research ideas with experts in the area.
  • Seek out resources that will allow for valid secondary data. Library stacks can provide information that may not be available through interviews and focus groups, as well as previous research. Evaluate source locations for potential quantity of information available.
  • Content analysis may provide evidence for a specific topical focus of interviews and focus groups. This may also lead to the need for changes in the focus of a study and how that study should be conducted.
  • Consider major macro and micro environmental factors that may influence the data collected.

Resources:

The Advantages of using Qualitative Research Methods By Carolyn Nicholls BA (Hons) MSTAT, teacher of the Alexander Technique.

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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We are Silvia Salinas-Mulder, Bolivian anthropologist, feminist activist and independent consultant, and Fabiola Amariles, Colombian economist, founder and director of Learning for Impact. We have worked for several years as external evaluators for development programs in Latin America. The following ideas may help to operationalize the principles of gender- and human rights (HR)-responsive evaluation in complex, multicultural contexts.

Lesson learned: Terms of Reference (TOR) for an evaluation are not engraved in stone.

Tip: Reframe the often conventional evaluation questions and other aspects of the evaluation process to ensure that gender and HR issues surface, and evidence of change (or no change) in women’s lives is gathered. Take into account context-specific issues and gender dynamics, as well as relevant cultural patterns, such as the effects of migration in the family roles and decision-making processes within some agricultural community settings.

Lesson learned: Some stakeholders are tired of being interviewed, while others – especially rural women- are eager to be heard.

Tip: Be creative; evaluation techniques are the means not the end, and can thus permanently be created, recreated and adapted to each situation and context. For example, use “conversatorios” (round table discussions), as opposed to focus groups, to gather people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to discuss over a particular issue of the evaluation; participants usually appreciate these reflective spaces and feel motivated to speak “outside the box”, while evaluators take a holistic overview of the topic.  Drawings, role plays and other popular education techniques may also facilitate participation of marginalized groups, including illiterate women.

Lesson learned: Answers to your questions may not contain key gender and HR issues to understand how change is occurring.

Tip: Awareness of specific cultural and gender communication patterns is crucial for an effective exchange. In any case, interviews should be dealt with as dialogues where people have the opportunity to express their priorities and points of view. Do not limit your interactions to a question-answer dynamic. Let people speak freely and “listen actively” to discover the essential. Respect and interpret the silences and do not insist on answers to your questions, rather focus on trying to understand the underlying meaning of each reaction. This will allow an eventual reconstruction of how change is occurring (Theory of Change) for the specific intervention and context, even if it has not been explicitly stated in the project design. Also, as evaluators we tend to focus on verbal communication, ignoring the importance of tone and gestures. Make sure you are alert to less explicit key messages.

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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