CASNET Week: Sarah Cohn and Scott Pattison on Team-Based Inquiry

Sarah Cohn, Science Museum of Minnesota, and Scott Pattison, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, here, members of the CASNET research team. Together we led NISE Net’s evaluation capacity building (ECB) initiative, Team-Based Inquiry (TBI), “. . . a practical approach to empowering education professionals to get the data they need, when they need it, to improve their products and practices and, ultimately, more effectively engage public and professional audiences.” We created TBI as a professional development opportunity and embedded evaluation resource for science museum staff within the Nanoscale Informal Science Education (NISE) Network. It draws heavily from participatory evaluation, action research, practitioner inquiry, and ECB.

TBI is a 4-step ongoing cycle of inquiry meant to guide museum and education professionals with little experience in evaluation and research successfully through the inquiry process.

  • Question– Team members identify and prioritize the inquiry question(s) that guide the project and address challenges that have arisen in the team’s work.
  • Investigate- The team collects data to answer its question(s), using methods appropriate to the study’s goals and realistic given time and resource constraints.
  • Reflect– This involves discussing and analyzing data to identify key findings and lessons learned while fostering a shared understanding within the team.
  • Improve- The team identifies, prioritizes, and implements changes in products or practices based on TBI findings. Teams identify new questions that feed into an ongoing inquiry cycle.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Make time for training – Since 2011, we’ve trained professionals through: 75-minute conference presentations; 3-hour workshops; 6-hour workshops; 2-day trainings; and 6-8 month cohorts that include hour-long phone calls and a two-day in-person meeting. We’ve seen 3-hour workshop participants walking away feeling somewhat comfortable with the process and capable of implementing it in their own work, while 75-minute session participants did not.
  2. Provide examples – Stories and examples, especially those from other practitioners, are most effective at providing a sense of what TBI looks like in real life. We’ve integrated many examples of TBI from different settings into our trainings to ensure participants get the most complete picture of how TBI, and evaluation, can help them in their daily work. Sample TBI studies can be found here.
  3. Connect online and in person– Two cohorts (18-20 people from 9-10 institutions) used online meetings for the bulk of TBI training. They grasped the content, but were not ready to fully realize the process or its utility until we met in person to analyze data together. Seeing the TBI cycle to completion was definitely important, but putting faces to names and voices and talking in depth with each person played an immensely important role in participants’ engagement, understanding, and sense of community.

Rad Resources: Free TBI resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Complex Adaptive Systems as a Model for Network Evaluations (CASNET) week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from members of the CASNET research team. 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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