I’m Melissa Chapman Haynes, sharing additional contributions to this prompt from some inspiring Minnesota-based evaluators:
If you could carry one lesson from the past to inform how the practice of evaluation moves forward, what would that be and why?
You can’t force a good evaluation.
One lesson from my evaluation past that I hope to carry forward is that you can’t force a good evaluation. Some evaluations end up being duds because the program or initiative you’re evaluating is not being implemented well, because key stakeholders aren’t bought in to the evaluation process, or any number of other reasons. You need to lean in and use your passion to bolster and support those rare cases when you find a program that has that “special sauce” and/or the program staff and leaders are eager to learn and improve their program in part through evaluation. THOSE are the projects that will keep you coming back for more.
— Nicole MartinRogers, Wilder Research, St. Paul, MN
Attend to the whole, the part, and the greater whole.
Every complex human system functions across many scales. No evaluation can track them all, but if you look at these three, you can get a sense of the patterns that transcend any given focus. When evaluating a program, consider the larger initiative and the people and/or tasks within. When evaluating an initiative, consider the environmental context and the projects within. When evaluating performance of an individual, consider their history or values and the context within which they function. Look at multiple frames of time as well: What is the past, present, and proposed future? How do patterns emerge across all these boundaries of environment and action? Only then can you begin to make meaning of what lies in the here and in the now.
— Glenda Eoyang, Human Systems Dynamics Institute, Circle Pines, MN
Go slow to go fast. Process matters.
Take time at the beginning of an evaluation to understand the context, build relationships, appreciate the context, and work with primary intended users to focus on intended uses. Don’t rush methods and design decisions. Upfront work will pay-off with easier interpretation and greater use at the end. Farmers in Minnesota till the soil before planting. Evaluators must likewise prepare the ground to plant the data seeds and nourish the blooming plants that will become findings.
— Michael Quinn Patton, Utilization-Focused Evaluation, St. Paul, MN
The best way to learn evaluation is to do it.
As the long-time director of the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute (MESI), I learned to value engaging novice evaluators in supervised practice with community organizations. The wonderful truth is that these collaborations created win/win situations: organizations that lacked resources to hire evaluation firms received high quality, relatively low-cost evaluation services; and students gained practical experience through conducting actual evaluations. The ideal projects we designed that appeared straightforward on paper typically morphed into challenges when they hit the reality of real-world practice—delayed timelines, problems recruiting participants, insufficient funding, etc. Great lessons to learn!
–Jean A. King, Professor Emerita, Evaluation Studies, University of Minnesota
“Stories and narrative, whether personal or fictional, provide meaning and belonging into our lives. They attach us to others and to our own histories by providing a tapestry rich with threads of time, place, character, and even advice on what we might do with our lives.” (Witherell and Noddings, 1991).
I encourage you to reflect on the prompt and add your response to the comments!
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Contribution, Leadership, and Renewal Week where a group of Minnesota-based evaluators reflect on the theme of Evaluation 2019, to be held in Minneapolis, MN. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.