AZENet Week: Filling in the Strengths Gaps by Melissa Kovacs

Greetings, fellow evaluators! My name is Melissa Kovacs, and I am a statistician and program evaluator based in Scottsdale, AZ. I am the founder of FirstEval, LLC, a statistical consulting and evaluation firm, and I am part of the Arizona Evaluation Network (AZENet). Most of my evaluation work supports social service provider organizations and the foundations who fund them in Arizona.

In this blog post I’ll share with you how my AZENet colleagues help me fill gaps in the strengths portfolio I bring to my clients.

As a solopreneur, I don’t have any employees. What I do have is a deep bench of fellow evaluators, researchers, statisticians, and community activists. I consider myself an introvert, but networking and cultivating relationships within my community of evaluators is incredibly important to me. My educational background is in public policy and quantitative research methods – not evaluation. I’ve learned that when I learn about a project that excites me, but know that I don’t singularly have all the skills to conduct the entire project, I go to my bench of colleagues and see who wants to join me.

Here are a few examples:

I’m currently in the last year of a five-year evaluation of an intensive advising program for first generation community college students. Over the years, I’ve needed help interviewing parents of community college students in Spanish, a language I don’t speak. In partnering to do this portion of the project, a dear friend and fellow AZENet evaluator helps fill two gaps for me – qualitative interviewing and speaking Spanish.

Solopreneurship can be lonely, and I’m lucky to have a few fellow evaluators I trust enough to review evaluation design ideas. They help me see my blindsides and often help buttress proposals with their stronger qualitative and evaluation methods knowledge.

In turn, I’m fortunate that other fellow evaluators and researchers consider me their go-to quantitative person when the project they lead requires statistical knowledge beyond their skillset.

Hot Tips: Seek out people who aren’t like you – in educational background, in typical fields where they work, and from communities different from yours – to get to know their work and work with. Having trusted colleagues whose backgrounds differ from mine is pure gold and strengthens me professionally and as a human.

Learn your own strengths and what excites you. This may sound easy, but it requires experience and reflection. Full, comprehensive evaluations require a rainbow variety of skills. Be honest about what skills you hold and which pieces of an evaluation don’t excite you (that’s okay!). Then, when you meet new fellow evaluators, try to spend time with those who get excited about the evaluation pieces that don’t excite you. This can be hard and awkward – socially, we gravitate towards like-kind, but long-term rewards lie in listening to others whose skills and interests differ from yours. These wonderful people will be your next collaborators.

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 theaea365 webpageso that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest toaea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by theAmerican Evaluation Associationand provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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