AZENet Week: Amy Schaller and Bryna Koch on Lessons from the Trenches: Designing an Evaluation Website

We’re Amy Schaller and Bryna Koch, Evaluation Specialists at the University of Arizona, Cooperative Extension Services.

How do you support an inaugural cross-site evaluation with a national initiative while incorporating technology and building grantee capacity?  This was the charge of the CYFERnet (Children, Youth, and Families Evaluation & Research Network) Evaluation Team at the University of Arizona.  Our vision was to create a website that would serve as a central platform to house a range of evaluation resources, tools, and training materials for grantees.  And so, was born.  The evaluation capacity-building website, designed to support the efforts of the Children, Youth, and Families At-Risk (CYFAR) initiative funded by USDA-NIFA, is also available to the public.

The resources we developed for the site included: content for eight learning modules including quizzes and videos, a searchable database of vetted evaluation instruments, a user-account feature, and online logic model and survey builders.  All of these features were developed from the ground-up and much energy was invested in generating original content, design, and features; no small undertaking. The process was, and remains, highly collaborative with the features on the website evolving numerous times since they were first developed.

Lessons Learned – DIY web development is fairly common these days, but to do so successfully requires some strategic vision and input from outside sources.  Here are some “Behind the Scenes” tips we can share from our experience to help those of you whose evaluation work intersects with website development:

  • If you can, work with web-design professionals.  Working across disciplines allows fresh thinking and combined perspectives. Solicit input from professionals with varying backgrounds.
  • Do your design research.  Select websites you like to use and consider what makes those sites appealing to you. Is it the feel or the look? How do they provide information? How do they make that information accessible?
  • Choose the tone for your site.  What feeling do you want to convey to your user?  What colors, images, and features communicate the essence of your project/company?
  • Do your platform research. Drupal, WordPress, Joomla? Should you consider open-source? How much modification is needed so the platform works for you?
  • Be the user. Interact with your site as a user would on a daily basis.
  • Organization and presentation matter. How can the content be intuitively grouped into themes that enable easier navigation for your users?
  • Consider the pace of technology and industry.  Will your design, platform and content be relevant in one or two years?

Rad Resources – – Our website A free online collaboration tool for project management

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Arizona Evaluation Network (AZENet) Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the AZENet AEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our AZE members. 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.

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