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 LinkedIn, Twitter, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.