CDC Week: CDC’s Evaluation Fellowship Program—Creating Infectious Agents for Good Evaluation Practice by Sarah Gill

I’m Sarah Gill, and I work in CDC’s Program Performance and Evaluation Office (PPEO), which is home to CDC’s Evaluation Fellowship Program. Today I’ll talk about how a simple change in the way PPEO interacts with CDC programs has produced powerful changes in their interest in and ability to do evaluation. It may offer lessons for other large organizations trying to create demand for good evaluation. Here’s what we did: rather than providing money to do evaluation, we offered people.

Back in 2011, CDC directed a small amount of funding to support five Evaluation Fellows. We thought this might boost evaluation capacity more than the customary use of such funds for one-off evaluations within CDC programs.

In our Fellowship pilot year, we targeted programs with an interest in and need for evaluation but with little or no internal capacity; fifty CDC programs applied for five Fellows! Feedback from both Fellows and host programs was outstanding, and we soon decided to invest in the Fellowship long term.  The 2019 cohort is the ninth one, and, significantly, host programs are now paying for the Fellows with their own resources!

From the start, some programs were willing to use their own funds to support a Fellow. By 2014, we had 24 Fellows, and five were supported by funding from programs, instead of CDC’s centralized pool of funding. In 2015, when this pool was no longer available, we were really heartened to see that not only were programs willing to use their own funds, but that the cohort that year was one of the largest we’d ever had.

Besides providing real time help and capacity to do evaluations, we intended for the Fellows to become part of the evaluation workforce at CDC or in public health more generally. We’re happy that 60% stay on at CDC and most others stay in public health as consultants, community organization staff, or academics. The Fellowship has been one of the most popular resources for evaluation capacity we have. With it, we’re creating a network of “infectious agents” for promoting good evaluation practice across the Agency.

Hot Tips:

  • Program needs vary, so it helps to recruit a diverse pool of Fellows. Some programs may need a Fellow who can take the ball and run with it on their own, and others may need a Fellow who can support efforts already underway by a strong team.
  • It’s best to screen host programs as closely as you screen Fellows. The reputation and long-term success of the Fellows and Fellowship depend on Fellows having a good learning experience.
  • To create a network of “infectious agents,” we suggest investing time and energy into building social and other connections among the Fellows, their mentors, and other evaluators in the organization.
  • When possible, provide opportunities for professional development beyond the Fellows’ experiences in host programs. Our host programs provide $5,000 annually for Fellows to direct to additional learning.

Disclaimer: The opinions and reflections expressed in this blog post are those of the author. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the CDC Framework for Program Evaluation in Public Health, where authors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer some history, lessons learned, resources, and thoughts about applied evaluation. 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.

1 thought on “CDC Week: CDC’s Evaluation Fellowship Program—Creating Infectious Agents for Good Evaluation Practice by Sarah Gill”

  1. Stacey McDonald

    I would love to hear more about your Fellowship program. I’m with a large foundation in Ontario, and we’re exploring ways to support evaluation capacity. We offer funds for evaluation, but many organizations don’t request nearly as much as we would fund, so the suggestion to offer people instead of money really intrigues me.

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