CEA Week: Shana Alford on The Art of Asking the Right Evaluation Questions

Greetings! My name is Shana Alford and I am an internal program evaluator at ACCESS Community Health Network, a 501 (c) federally qualified health center network of more than 40 health centers in under-served communities within the City of Chicago. As an internal evaluator, I objectively analyze how federally funded community health programs are implemented in targeted communities and determine measurable impact and outcomes.

In my experience, I have learned the art of asking the right questions to promote positive dialogue and build relationships. Let’s face it, sometimes you can be viewed as an outsider, even when you are an insider!  Asking the right questions doesn’t imply there is a set of wrong questions, but questions can stimulate dialogue and serve as a powerful medium for conversation, so it is important to set the stage to gather the information you need. Keep in mind that one or more conversations can lead to positive change or at least increase awareness and learning among staff, management, and you too!

The Art of Asking the Right Evaluation Questions

photo credit: WingedWolf via photopin cc

Hot Tips:Asking questions for evaluation purposes is an art and here are three that I use frequently:

1) Insight: Listen to your program team and learn about their unique experiences, their responsibilities, successes and challenges. When you have insight about a program then you are more likely to probe deeper into areas that seem to raise a red flag, or deserve attention because they are going so well. Staff will find pleasure that you know the ins and outs of their program.

2) Relevance: An effective question will be right for the moment and relevant for the group of people you are addressing. I have learned the hard way that asking questions to management that should be asked to program staff and vice versa can cause an awkward case of silence, frustration, or sometimes misunderstanding. It is important to know your audience.

3) Patience: Asking questions should not feel like an interrogation to staff or management. Also, they may not be able to answer a question or feel uncomfortable for many reasons. Therefore, it is importance to practice patience. If the purpose of the question is to learn something new, highlight an existing issue, or clarify, then the evaluator should give the program team time to respond, even if it is at a later date. Hint: If people are unresponsive to a question, sometimes taking a step back and asking the same question, but differently will yield the results you are looking for. This may sound unlikely, but it is true, try it!

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating the Chicagoland (CEA) Evaluation Association Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the CEA AEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our CEA members. 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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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