My name is Rob Fischer, and I am a faculty member at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. I am pleased to contribute this blog post for AEA365’s focus on Evaluability Assessment. I teach evaluation to students in social work and nonprofit management and lead a number of studies of community-based initiatives.
When I was asked to contribute a post on this topic I admit that I was luke-warm to the idea. This is not because I do not buy into the value of EA. The idea of systematically assessing a program’s readiness for evaluation is inherently sensible and reflects a commitment to making the best use of finite evaluation resources. On the practical side, I meet with many programs and funders who would benefit from engaging in EA.
My experience is, though, that EA is one of the hardest sells in the evaluation business. Programs and funders often take it hard (and sometimes personal) when you suggest that they are not ready to embark on evaluation. In today’s outcome-focused environment, EA takes the endorsement from a clear-eyed funder before most programs will consider it. When programs seek an evaluation the recommendation is often felt as a setback. If I am ready to jump in my car to go on a trip and I am told I need to research destinations, examine route options and have my car checked out first, this may take the wind out of my sails. Are they smart things to do, without question, but it feels like so laborious. Such is the case with EA. But evaluation should not be about spontaneity, right?
In my experience I have found that EA makes sense to many partners once they get a good dose of reality under their belt. EA can be framed as the smart way to inform any evaluation effort. It may be best understood as a process of ‘taking stock” – of such things as the program data that now exist, the degree of program clarity, and the status of program implementation. If a program requests an evaluation plan, all these things must be explored anyway. EA allows us to have a concerted effort applied to this undertaking. The downside is finding a partner who is willing to pay for EA. Ultimately, EA results in a plan to evaluate, not an evaluation report. I think the key is getting the partners to understand that they will get more value out of the subsequent evaluation effort if they invest in EA as a first step.
Rad Resource: I like this recent report from the UK on planning EAs, available open-access on their website.
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