AZENet Week: Beyond the Comfort Zone: Learning Quickly in the Information Age by Meagan Schlinkert & David Schlinkert

Hello! We are Meagan Schlinkert, MPH and David Schlinkert, Ph.D., MPA, Co-Founders of SCHLink, LLC, a research, evaluation, and data communications consulting company in Arizona. We have extensive experience evaluating government grants and nonprofit organizations, with a specific focus on health, human services, and international development.

In the research world, there are two specialty tracks, methodologists and subject matter experts. Evaluators, however, have to be both expert methodologists, so they can design and implement their research independently, and have subject matter expertise, so they can speak their clients’ language and understand the contextual nuances of evaluation findings.

Hot Tips:

To hone methodological skills, there is an abundance of excellent books, workshops, and trainings that can foster evaluation acumen. Some of our favorite resources are; Methods Matter, Designing Surveys, Utilization-Focused Evaluation, and Statistics Survival Manual.

The information age has exponentially increased the amount of available knowledge, and it can take years to develop a deep understanding of a particular field, so how can evaluators become subject matter experts quickly?

Lessons Learned:

Earlier this year a client approached us to review their evaluation plan for a project. We knew little about the field, but we were excited about the challenge and the opportunity to study something new. We spent a lot of time reading ourselves down the wrong rabbit holes at the beginning of the project, and we quickly learned the importance of asking good clarifying questions to expedite our learning process:

  • What does the client intend to do with the evaluation findings?
  • How are key concepts in this field defined, and how does this diverge from our existing subject matter expertise?
  • What do we need to know about this field to address the four threats to validity and minimize error and bias in our study design?
  • Is the client going to be satisfied with the level of confidence that we can provide at the end of the evaluation based on their budget and subsequent sample size?

Who do we know in this field that can point us towards the most pertinent literature?These questions, coupled with strategies for becoming a subject matter expert and just in time training and learning principles helped us expand our business, and we hope they can help you take on new projects outside your comfort zone.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Arizona Evaluation Network (AZENet) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our AZENet 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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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