Communication and Relationship are Two-Way Streets (Part 1) by Kavita Mittapalli

Photo of Kavita Mittapalli, PhD
Kavita Mittapalli, PhD

Hello! I am Kavita Mittapalli, Ph.D. I own a K-16 research and evaluation firm, MN Associates, Inc. (MNA) just outside Washington DC metropolitan area. I founded MNA in 2004 as a graduate student at George Mason University. I have a Ph.D. in Research Design and Methodology in Education. We are a team of five evaluators and an administrative staff with a combined 65 years of experience conducting a wide variety of social science and STEM education research and evaluation projects across the country.

In the best of times, even a well-meaning Project team (Project Director, PI/Co-PI, Program Coordinator) of an awarded grant sometimes “forgets” about evaluation and the evaluator. Once an evaluator is acquired / brought on board to a grant, sometimes, we end up being the forgotten lot.

In some cases (speaking from experience), we are called in towards the end of the grant year/cycle to help “put something together” in the form of a report in order to stay compliant with the funder/funding agency.

Let’s do better!

Here are a few tips and approaches to help the project team be proactive and prevent this pitfall.

A strong and positive relationship with an evaluator is quite possible when they are:

  1. An integral part of the team. Meaning, the evaluators are invited to pertinent project planning and implementation meetings throughout the grant cycle. (More regularly in the beginning and then scheduled, as needed.)
  2. Considered critical friends and thought-partners in the grant from the beginning to the end.

The Project team:

  1. Shares meeting notes and project documents, which could be via a shared space such as DropBox, Box, GDrive, SharePoint, OneDrive that is accessible to pertinent members of the team including the evaluator.
  2. Invites the evaluator to project related events/sessions (these are especially useful in scholarship and training grants) which could be potential data collection opportunities for the evaluators.
  3. Informs the evaluator if and when there are any changes/deviations to the project’s objectives / activities.
  4. Shares extant/institutional data in a timely fashion.
  5. Collaborates with them, so the evaluators can closely align their data collection activities and timelines with the project’s objectives.
  6. Communicates and responds well via emails, phone calls, virtual meetings, and even texts, if needed.
  7. Pays them well and on time! (I repeat.)
By the same token, there are some tips and approaches for evaluators too, since engagement and communication are two-way streets.

And as they say, Ask And You Shall Receive — well, most of the time!

  1. Communicate early and often. Can’t emphasize this enough for both the PI/Co-PI and the evaluator. Don’t wait for them to initiate a meeting/call, especially, if you need the information to continue doing your work efficiently and effectively.
  2. Ask to be part of the team – attend meetings, take/share notes. Provide formative feedback: verbally or in the form of summary reports, be engaged and involved.
  3. Develop a positive (and patient) relationship with the client – it takes time to build and maintain trust.
  4. Set up regular meetings (standing meetings, if necessary), and ask if there are any changes in the objectives, activities and how you may need to realign your data collection activities.

Remember: You won’t know if you don’t ask!

Did I miss anything?

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