Ann Emery on Taking an Evaluator to Lunch

Greetings, I’m Ann Emery from Innovation Network in Washington, DC. I also tweet and blog about evaluation. I will be posting several monthly articles to assist you with employment in the evaluation field.

As a new-ish evaluator and part-time graduate student myself, I receive a lot of questions about networking. My advice is to take an evaluator to lunch every week. You’ll learn more about evaluation and career options from these casual conversations than from any textbook or journal article.

Cool Trick: What will you talk about? Avoid the boring “what do you do at your job?” questions. (Please leave your resume at home – asking a new friend to hire you will spoil lunch and send your resume to the bottom of their pile.) Instead, infuse a few of these discussion topics into your conversation:

  • First, learn the “Ann 101” of your lunch companion. What did they study in school, have they worked in other fields, and why did they choose evaluation in the first place? It’s reassuring to hear how often major career decisions “sort of fell into place” for successful evaluators.
  • What’s the purpose of evaluation? Your textbook only contains one or two viewpoints, but the field is filled with dozens of other ideas. Does evaluation exist to influence programmatic funding decisions? Show that something worked?
  • What’s the difference between research and evaluation? Everyone has a different viewpoint on this seemingly mundane issue.
  • Are evaluators responsible for ensuring that the evaluation process and results are useful and used? The wide range of responses to this question is fascinating.
  • What types of contextual factors influence their evaluations? Leadership changes, new policies, or a fluctuating political environment? How has the economy affected the programs and evaluation process? Every evaluator has a horror story about an unexpected event that nearly derailed the entire project.
  • What makes a good evaluation? Some people say mixed methods are a “must” for good evaluation; others swear by participatory methods. What do they use in their daily practice?
  • What’s next in their career path? I’m always relieved when experienced evaluators smile and tell me, “Oh geez, I have no idea! I’m still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up!”
  • What are the current trends in evaluation – and what’s next? Where’s the field definitely going in the next 5, 10, or 20 years, and where do they hope it’s going?

Lesson Learned: Don’t feel pressured to develop clever responses. Your job is to listen.

Hot Tip: Who should you take to lunch? Invite everyone from your city – current and past coworkers, professors, classmates, and people you’ve met through LinkedInTwitter, or blogging. You never know where it might lead. Bon appétit!

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.

7 thoughts on “Ann Emery on Taking an Evaluator to Lunch”

  1. Pingback: Conference Tips for Newbie Evaluators | Emery Evaluation

  2. Ann –

    Great advice! I love hearing the perspectives on seasoned evaluators and those new the field as well. If you’re attending the conference, I’d love to grab a few minutes to chat! Or, my home base is not far from DC, so perhaps we can make a lunch actually happen.

  3. Pingback: Conference Tips for Newbie Evaluators | Adventures of a Nonprofit and Foundations Evaluator

  4. Ann,

    Have been meaning to drop you a note. Enjoyed reading your good, advice-filled post. Definitely resonates with my experiences. Here are a few Q’s & tips that folks might consider adding to the list:

    – What makes a good evaluator? Answers can give you a sense of whether the skills and strengths that evaluators value are ones you share and enjoy using.

    – What issues/challenges keep evaluators up at nite? Always interesting to hear what’s hot and where some of the potential needs in the field are.

    Finally, lunches can start to add up in $$. Coffee is fine too & more affordable…unless it’s Starbucks 🙂 A chat in someone’s office can also work. Almost everyone remembers a time when someone did the same for them and most are glad to do pass it on to others.

    Cheers, josh

    1. Josh, Great ideas. I especially like the question about being a good evaluator, which is so relevant these days with all the discussions about credentialing.

      And yes, lunches can add up to big $$! Your recommendation about meeting in their office is a good one. Conversations can also take place through emails, Twitter, Skype, etc.

  5. Or, come to the annual conference and invite one of the 2500 other attendees to join you for lunch!

    Thanks for the great ideas Ann.

    1. Susan, Great point! The annual conference wins the Best Networking of the Year award. This is where I first meet the new friends who I’ll be scheduling lunch dates with later on.

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