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Cameron Norman on Information Technology and Evaluation

I’m Cameron Norman and I’m the Director of Evaluation at the Peter A. Silverman Global eHealth Program at the University of Toronto. Since the first time I saw the World Wide Web back in the early 1990’s, I was interested in how social tools and technologies like it could be used to help people solve problems, learn together and share what they know. Some think my evaluation niche is technology, but that’s rather misleading. The tools always change, but people — real humans — remain the constant no matter whether we’re using one of those ‘brick’ mobile phones or an iPad. We’re natural learners and love to share and work together so anything that lets us do more of that and do it at a distance is going to be an attractor. Evaluation can help de-mystify technologies and make them accessible to more people, in more places, more often.

Lessons Learned: One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to never make assumptions about how any person or group will use a tool or technology. I’ve seen seniors who are more savvy with the Internet than 15-year olds and single working moms who are more prolific on social networks than full-time media professionals. One of my early surprises was learning how well street youth navigated through life using information technology in ways that often dwarfed that of their wealthier, more technology-enabled peers. The surprises never end.

Rad Resource: Twitter. Twitter answers questions you never thought to ask and gets answers from people you never knew existed. People are shocked when I tell them that I, a university professor, get more high quality, useful and relevant evaluation information from Twitter and blogs than I do scholarly databases.

Tips & Recommendations: Dive in with both feet. Learn by doing. Create a blog, start a Twitter feed and never worry about getting it “right”, because there isn’t such a thing. There are strategies that are more appropriate than others depending on what you want to accomplish, but the more you share thoughtfully, openly and with your own voice, the more the online world will give back to you. It’s quite remarkable and a lot of fun. I find it helpful to protect a small amount of time regularly to contribute to my blog and Twitter feed and use ‘dead time’ — like riding the bus or waiting in line — to catch up on my reading using a mobile device to make it all more productive.

This contribution is from aea365, the AEA Tip-a-Day alerts. Just starting out on Twitter? Consider following @aeaweb for headlines and resources from AEA or follow @cdnorman to learn more from Cameron.


3 thoughts on “Cameron Norman on Information Technology and Evaluation”

  1. Pingback: A Call to Evaluation Bloggers: Building A Better KT System « Censemaking

  2. Hi Cameron,

    Great insight and I couldn’t agree more!

    Regarding your point of never making assumptions about people w/ technology: I’ve encountered this first-hand. For example, with some of the other projects I’m involved in, I’ve interacted with mid- and high-level business executives (i.e., the people who guiding organizations). You would naturally assume that these people would be some of the most tech-literate, but I find that this is often not the case. In fact, even recently, I learned that former Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, actually struggles using modern technology (and he ran the great state of Illinois!).

    Regarding Twitter, it truly is a great tool. I’ve had some great dialogue with others directly through Twitter. Additionally, Twitter, in my opinion, is one of the best ways of keeping your finger on the pulse of any given situation. This is why I think the recent Twitter integration into Google search results was a fantastic move.

    1. Hi Cameron,

      I enjoyed your article, especially as it relates closely with my own background. I agree with your “biggest lesson learned”, which is to never make assumptions about how a person or groups will use technology. I’ve personally witnessed individuals with more than 40 years in the industry struggle with new technology far more than those who have very limited experience in the field. For program evaluation I’ve read that including all stakeholders in the evaluation process is one way to increase utilization of the findings. I believe using software which increases collaboration is such an easy way to involve stakeholders.

      There are so many online resources such as twitter which can help in navigating towards a good solution. In the past I’ve found that using Stack Overflow has provided me with the most support but I think i should use my own twitter page more to post questions and concerns. The more involved in the different sites the better.

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