AZENet Week: Evaluation as Accompaniment by Abby Henderson

My name is Abby Henderson, MS and I work as an Analyst & Project Coordinator at Arizona State University. My work is split between the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy in the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center and the Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security. I also serve as the External Communications Chair of the Arizona Evaluation Network (the local AEA affiliate) and had the pleasure of compiling this week’s blog posts.

My colleagues around Arizona have brilliant tips and ideas and I’m excited about the conversations they may generate. The thread that connects this week’s posts is relationships, whether they are with stakeholders, marginalized communities, or evaluation clients. These relationships require listening, asking the right questions, regular engagement, and trust. In a word, the theme of this week is accompaniment.

Accompaniment traditionally is thought of as the musical background for a soloist, or a complement to a melody. My understanding of accompaniment is a bit different. After my undergraduate education, I spent a year as an international volunteer in South Africa. When my coworkers and neighbors would go on an errand, they would turn to me and ask if I would like to accompany them. This meant walking alongside them on the way to the store or a neighbor’s house. We’d have conversations in a mix of English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, and plenty of hand gestures. No matter the conversation, the intention of these walks was clear and the joy they contained was undeniable: this was where our relationships blossomed and trust formed.

Lesson Learned:

When I think of my role as an evaluator, the word accompaniment always comes to mind. Both in the more traditional definition of musical accompaniment and in the ways my South African community used the word to mean journey alongside. It is not our role as evaluators to be in the spotlight or to set the direction or pace of projects. We walk alongside our clients and trust their wisdom and expertise. We journey together, even if at times we aren’t speaking the same language.

It is an honor to accompany clients as an evaluator, and I find a sense of purpose from the relationships I build in my community. This week, you’ll get a chance to hear more about how to build those relationships, how to collect data in meaningful ways, and how to merge your subject matter expertise with methodology to create better evaluation projects. I hope you enjoy learning from these Arizona evaluators as much as I have!

What words help you feel grounded in your work? What images come to mind when you think of your role as an evaluator? We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so feel free to reach out to me or any of the other Arizona affiliate members!

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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