Corrie Whitmore on Framing an Evaluation Conversation for Programs with Fuzzy Goals

I’m Corrie Whitmore, an internal evaluator working for Southcentral Foundation. SCF is an Alaska Native Owned and Operated healthcare organization serving approximately 60,000 Alaska Native and American Indian people living in Anchorage, Matanuska-Susitna Valley, and 60 rural villages in the Anchorage Service Unit. Our organization has had program evaluation in-house since 2009, so our small department focuses on helping people in operations understand why evaluation matters and how it fits into what they do every day.

Hot Tip: Build relationships! Sometimes the most efficient way to get things done is not the best way to move the project forward – making time to listen, ask questions, and puzzle out what an evaluation will offer people “in the trenches” is very important.

Hot Tip: Get out of the office!  Going to the programs we work with and watching operations unfold builds trust with our customers, teaches us about their processes and data collection, and shows them we care about what they do.

Hot Tip: Ask concrete questions! It can be difficult for people to puzzle out logic models or identify program objectives, if they don’t have a background in that area, but most practitioners can confidently answer questions like:

  1. What does success look like?
  2. How do you know if things are going well?
  3. How do you know if something needs to change
  4. If you had a magic wand, what one thing would you change?
  5. What helps you make decisions today?

Hot Tip: Get something on paper – then tear it up! We use Anne Lamott’s idea of first drafts  to encourage writing things down early in the process. It’s much easier for our clients to identify what sounds appropriate and what feels “off“ once they have a document in hand to edit. Going through multiple drafts offers customers a chance to grapple with the language used, cultural appropriateness, and feasibility of the evaluation plan at all stages of the project, increasing their ownership of the final product.

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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