AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators



CPE Week: Lyn Shulha on Reinventing Your Identity as a Participatory Evaluator

Hi, I am Lyn Shulha, Director of the Assessment and Evaluation Group, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada.  I have found that after 20 years of practice, I am still becoming a participatory evaluator.

It is important to continue asking, “Is participatory work right for me?”  This question pushes me into an ongoing assessment of my own strengths, limitations, needs and values.

Hot Tip: Clarify for yourself periodically: (a) why you are drawn to participatory approaches, (b) how comfortable you are working with complexity and ambiguity, and (c) if you [still] find it exciting to learn about the interconnections among evaluative inquiry, pedagogy, communication, cultural competency and decision making.

Lesson Learned: Orchestrating participatory evaluation is both a deliberative and creative process.

Rad Resource: Cousins, B. & Whitmore, E.  (1998).  Framing participatory evaluation. New Directions for Evaluation, 80, 5-23.

  • Explore the scope you have in deciding how much control to maintain over the evaluation process, which stakeholders you might select as participants and the depth of participation you can facilitate.

Lesson Learned: Thinking about participatory evaluation as an approach rather than a method or technique allows me to foreground the purpose, people and context of my work. As a consequence, I experience participatory evaluation in a variety of forms.

Rad Resource: Grab this graphic to remind you of how purpose and context will shape your decisions in designing participatory evaluation.

Lesson Learned: I discovered my design decisions were rarely “right” or “wrong”, only more or less useful and satisfying for my participants and for me. Be kind to yourself in judging your own performance! It’s all about learning and developing the courage to unleash the artistry within you!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Collaborative, Participatory & Empowerment Evaluation (CPE) Week with our colleagues in the CPE AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our CPE members and you may wish to consider subscribing to our weekly headlines and resources list where we’ll be highlighting CPE resources. 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.


1 comment

  • David Fetterman · March 25, 2011 at 11:00 am


    Nice job!

    Love that prism – very helpful tool in visualizing the spectrum as it were.

    I also want to recommend the link to artistry in your piece in case anyone missed it. It discusses upstream and downstream learning – a critical part of what happens when you engage in collaborative, participatory, and empowerment evaluations.

    Many thanks for your contributions.



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