Hello! My name is Alana Kinarsky, a PhD student in the Evaluation program at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). As a graduate student, I regularly read evaluation theory and conduct my own research on evaluation. However, I often wonder how research on evaluation does or should help practitioners in their daily work.
Cool Trick: To connect research and practice, I organized a pop-up journal club during my summer internship at Informing Change. The journal club gave staff an opportunity to read and discuss evaluation research. I circulated a few theory papers via email and the group elected to read “Evaluation and Organizational Learning: Past, Present, and Future” by Rosalie Torres and Hallie Preskill. The following week, about 10 of us got together over pizza for a facilitated yet casual conversation. Discussing theory can help evaluation practitioners meaningfully reflect on their practice
Lesson Learned 1: Theory offers practitioners a framework and context for their evaluation work. As our conversation of the paper unfolded, we zeroed in on a question that weighs heavily in both theory and practice: what is the role of the evaluator? As people around the table began talking through different roles, I noticed their ideas began to align with the Evaluation Theory Tree developed by Marv Alkin and Tina Christie. I sketched it on the board and walked through the different “branches” of evaluation theory. The Theory Tree focused our conversation and grounded some of these theoretical elements–like the role of an evaluator–in a visual that was analogous to the roles the Informing Change practitioners recognized in their work.
Lesson Learned 2: These conversations are an opportunity for teambuilding. A conversation about theory creates an opportunity for people from different backgrounds and leadership levels to participate in a shared dialogue. During our discussion, we shared personal stories, current challenges, and ideas for future team conversations rose to the surface. Furthermore, people who rarely work together had the opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm with peers.
Lesson Learned 3: Reflection on practice is important. Our work as evaluators is often fast paced so it is easy to get caught up in execution. However, it is important to make time to reflect on the big picture and think creatively. This not only improves an individual’s practice, but also supports organizational learning.
At the end of the hour, I asked the group to quickly share one takeaway from our conversation. The room was buzzing with energy as people shared what they learned and expressed enthusiasm for continuing this practice. The group agreed that stepping away from their desks to talk about theory offered them an opportunity to reflect, build relationships, and generate new ideas.
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