Hi, my name is Ayana Perkins, the programming Co-Chair of the Atlanta-area Evaluation Association as well as Senior Research Analyst and Evaluator at Infinite Services and Solutions.
Lesson Learned: When evaluating organizations for empowerment one of the characteristics to explore is whether the agency is set up to be an opportunity role structure. Organizations structured in this manner are more likely to retain their members due to the high level of engagement that is inherently required. Opportunity role structures, a popular term in community psychology and conceptualized by Kenneth Maton and Deborah Salem, are egalitarian systems that encourage members to shape the direction of the organization, offer purposeful activities, create easy access to intellectual and material resources, and deliver guidance and information that would allow members to competently serve as a leader in this organization. In developing our local affiliate of the AEA, we shifted to become more systems oriented resulted in the development of an opportunity role structure. These system changes included branching off and, routine training.
Our first act was to more actively encourage branching off. Seemingly a self-sabotaging act since this could naturally result in splintering, the opposite occurred—members now had a new way to pursue topics of interests with the affiliate gaining access to members who were more personally fulfilled; a predictor of future participation. We gambled and won on the logic that people appreciate most that which directly reflects them. The first group was an evaluation consultant group, and was later followed by a pro bono group, economic evaluation, and finally facilitation. Each group retains a commitment to the AEA affiliate but also uniquely provides a space where members can problem solve within specific professional topics.
Our second act was routine training. Beyond the standard professional development and social networking activities that we offer monthly, we also wanted to make sure that members felt more comfortable about advancing their work in evaluation. Almost 8 years ago, we created a new evaluator’s series to help guide our less experienced evaluators in securing employment. Earlier this year, we trained graduate students on conference style presentations using Ignite format in preparation for their delivery in a showcase at Morehouse School of Medicine, even scheduling additional dry run sessions to reduce speaker anxiety. More recently, we have developed a voluntary 30 minute orientation for new members to directly match them with their interests and invite them into leadership. Each of these training activities is ongoing.
Rad Resource: For more information on opportunity role structure, see Kenneth Maton and Deborah Salem’s 1995 article in the American Journal of Community Psychology on empowering organizations.
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