Ann Emery on 10 Things You Didn’t Learn in School

Greetings, I’m Ann Emery from Innovation Network in Washington, DC. I also tweet and blog about evaluation.

If you recently completed your graduate or undergraduate degree, congratulations! You’ve already learned some of the key elements of evaluation. However, evaluation involves more than theory, methods, and statistical formulas.

Hot Tips: Here are 10 things you probably didn’t learn in school

  1. Facilitating group discussions. Managing multiple viewpoints will be key to your success. Learn to facilitate staff meetings, board meetings, client meetings, and retreats.
  2. Teaching. If you’ve already taught college-level courses, you’re ahead of the game. If not, don’t despair. For starters, learn to communicate well with non-evaluators (read John Gargani’s post about jargon) and then adapt to new formats (read Stephanie Evergreen’s post about webinars).
  3. Adapting to external factors. Universities offer controlled, organized environments. Maybe your program offered a semester-by-semester layout of your courses or a handbook with thesis guidelines. In evaluation, you’ll have to adapt to poor data quality and turbulent political environments.
  4. Managing people and projects. Get started by reading the book Managing to Change the World and the blog Ask a Manager, both by Alison Green.
  5. Writing non-APA format reports. Evaluation clients want, and need, a variety of formats – dashboards, memos, fact sheets, brochures, handouts, and verbal presentations. Visit the Data Visualization and Reporting website.
  6. Giving potent presentations. Check out AEA’s Potent Presentations Initiative to polish your messaging, design, and delivery skills.
  7. Negotiating (and compromising). You’ll need to determine deliverables, deadlines, and budgets.
  8. Communicating and resolving conflict within teams. Most grad school programs offer a mix of solo and group work, but in evaluation, you’ll be working within teams, work groups, task forces, and committees on every project. You’ll also be co-authoring papers, co-presenting at conferences, co-directing new initiatives, and co-chairing committees.
  9. There’s a lot more to evaluation than data analysis. Evaluation is a cycle that involves planning; data collection; analysis and reflection; and action and improvement.
  10. Getting out from behind your desk. In grad school, you could disappear into the library on a Saturday morning with your coffee cup and textbook and emerge on Saturday night with a completed paper. In evaluation, there may be full days (or weeks!) when you’re away from your desk because you’ll be talking to stakeholders and convening work groups. Gathering input from stakeholders takes time, but designing an evaluation that meets their needs is well worth the effort!

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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

6 thoughts on “Ann Emery on 10 Things You Didn’t Learn in School”

  1. Pingback: Ann Emery, James Coyle, and Kylie Hutchinson, on 10 Things You DID Learn in School · AEA365

  2. Great post Ann!
    Here’s another – searching for patterns – this is one of the most useful tools that just isn’t taught (or at least isn’t emphasized). Everything from finding the patterns and discrepancies in a data set to finding the patterns in the lives of stakeholders that help to give meaning and structure to finding the patterns in your boss’ work that help you anticipate rather than only respond.

    1. Hi Susan, Great point! Finding patterns is one of the foundational skills of a good quantitative and/or qualitative evaluator – and a skill that, like you mentioned, applies to a lot more than data analysis. Any tips or resources to help novices search for patterns in the data, among their stakeholders, or in their everyday work life?

  3. Sheila Robinson Kohn

    Great Post Ann! I’ll add these tips to the advice for novice evaluators given by a panel of experts at a great session on Saturday, and will share with my graduate students next semester!

    1. Thanks, Sheila! I heard the panel last Saturday was great, and was sad to miss it. As you pull together resources and advice for your students, please share your insights with the evaluation community (perhaps through an aea365 post?). – Ann

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