CASNET Week: Scott Pattison, Melanie Francisco, and Juli Goss on Enhancing ECB within a System

Greetings! This is Scott Pattison and Melanie Francisco from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and Juli Goss from the Museum of Science, Boston. We are part of the research team for the NSF-funded Complex Adaptive Systems as a Model for Network Evaluations (CASNET) project. Today we’re focusing on how project leaders and senior managers can use system-level thinking to support evaluation use and capacity building within project teams, institutions, or networks.

While a lot has been written about the importance of professional development and training strategies for fostering ECB at different levels, we’ve found that many system factors beyond training shape how evaluation is used and how evaluation knowledge, skills, and value spread across individuals and throughout organizations. In fact, in the right circumstances, ECB can be supported without explicit training. Here are recommendations from the CASNET team.

Hot Tips:

#1: Create a buzz! Express your own valuing of evaluation, share evaluation reports and findings, regularly participate in outside data collection opportunities, and connect with other projects with strong evaluation components. One of the biggest surprises in our research was the synergistic impact that many diffuse evaluation-related influences can have on an individual’s evaluation capacity building. Study participants often shared stories about how the combined effect of these influences shaped their perspectives on and use of evaluation.

#2: Build teams for success and resilience. Create teams of individuals with different evaluation-related skills, experiences, and comfort levels. We found that the exchange of diverse experiences and knowledge contributed to strong evaluative thinking within the team. Even those with more evaluation experience benefited from the perspectives and knowledge of other team members.

Also, incorporate duplicate experience within your institution and your projects so that evaluation capacity building can continue even if one or two individuals move on. For example, sending at least two staff members to an evaluation training is a great way to ensure that the knowledge from that training persists and that training participants are able to motivate each other to share and act on what they have learned.

#3: Empower teams to take control. Communicate your expectation that evaluation and data-based decision making should be an integral part of the work at your institution or in your projects, but also explicitly empower groups to use knowledge and resources in ways that makes sense to them.

We observed a strong shared value for evaluation communicated by project leaders and a clear expectation for teams to incorporate evaluation and team-based inquiry into their work. At the same time, there was a great deal of freedom in how team members and partners chose to meet these expectations. Groups adapted evaluation and team-based inquiry in diverse ways to meet their own needs and settings.

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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