Cheryl Keeton on From Dependent to Independent

Hi, my name is Cheryl Keeton. Throughout my career, I’ve been responsible for program evaluation, review, and success. Most recently I transitioned to independent consulting to focus my energy and passion to the field of evaluation. I want to share my experience as one way to make the transition.

Lessons Learned: Three years before I decided to become an independent evaluator, I began exploring evaluation from the 50,000 foot view. I attended my first AEA Conference to learn about the many ways evaluation is used outside of my field. I wanted to know who is doing evaluation, how are the various approaches different from the way I do things, and how can I use the sessions to help self-evaluate my strengths and weaknesses. The sessions were fascinating and the community of AEA members was very friendly and helpful. I made new friends and began to establish a network of support.

Next I attended an AEA Summer Institute for in-depth learning and practice. I knew I had a firm foundation but the summer study program allowed me to build and grow, extending my understanding, and learning techniques that were new to me.

Since those initial steps, I reached out to resources around me to help establish my independent consulting. Gail Barrington gave me the best advice for how to begin when I met her at an AEA conference “do it now while you are still working.” Before making the transition, I read Dr. Barrington’s book– Consulting Start-Up and Management: A Guide for Evaluators and Applied Researchers. I got advice from the career center at the local community college and created a web presence. Dr. Barrington’s book has been the best investment and reference for me as the process unfolds.

I reached out to the evaluation community through AEA and my regional organization, volunteering on the local and national level and taking advantage of training such as Ann K. Emery’s Data Visualization workshop. Her blog and resources are amazing. I also follow Sheila Robinson, AEA365 Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators, and advice on Potent Presentations, p2i.

I found that knowing what you are good at helps to provide direction as you begin. Fields of experience help me to narrow the scope so I know what projects to consider and where to place my energies for marketing. Gail Barrington outlines this in her book very well.

My experience transitioning from in-house evaluation to independent evaluation and consulting has confirmed for me that membership in AEA is essential to provide the big picture and grounding in principles, training is imperative to stay current, and connecting with others in the field is invaluable.

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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