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Cultivating Program Staff’s Inner Action Hero: Participatory Strategies that Promote Evaluation Use by Christy Metzler



Hello!  I’m Christy Metzler, Director, Program Evaluation for NeighborWorks America®, a Congressionally chartered community development intermediary.  As an internal evaluator, I often work closely with program staff to generate actionable learning about our programs and services.  I find that more meaningful participation of the program staff throughout the evaluation process promotes richer strategic conversations, yields actionable and useful recommendations, and ultimately contributes to organizational effectiveness and impact.

Hot Tip #1: Connect to business planning.  Work with program staff to identify where they are in their business planning cycle and be intentional in connecting evaluation findings to the business plan.  Participatory sense-making sessions can be a natural launch pad for discussing program strategy and business plan priorities.  Allow the time and space for these discussions.

Hot Tip #2: Make it inclusive.  In designing evaluation efforts, find ways to include program staff across multiple levels of the organizational structure, from senior vice president to line staff.  Each position has a unique perspective to offer and can expose challenges that may not be evident to others.

Hot Tip #3: Imbed program staff.  Solicit a program operations staff member to play a key role with the data collection or other evaluation activities where possible. Not only does the involvement in the evaluation effort build evaluation capacity, but it also lends greater credibility to the effort, increases ownership of the process and can better support program staff in making program improvements after the evaluation is completed.

Lesson Learned: Remain flexible and responsive to program staff. In a recent evaluation effort, what started out as an implementation review expanded, upon the staff’s suggestion, to include a review of business data being regularly used and strategic conversations taking place in order to identify knowledge gaps and barriers to implementation of business plans. As a result, the evaluation was more relevant and useful for business planning efforts.

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1 comment

  • Nathan · March 15, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Hello Christy,

    I appreciated your blog post which offered practical strategies for ensuring evaluation use. I am currently enrolled in a course entitled “Program Inquiry and Evaluation” as part of a Master’s Program. Before taking the course, I had never considered utilization as a central component of Program Evaluation. I always thought that the role of the evaluators was limited to gathering, analyzing and interpreting data; in my mind, it was up solely to organizations hiring the evaluators to determine how an evaluations’ findings should be utilized. My preconceptions were misguided; Patton (2011) suggests that utilizing the data collected to encourage and support change should be the main objective of the evaluation.

    What I really appreciated about your post was that it offered examples of what promoting utilization looks like in practice. Engaging users in the development of the evaluation is an important step that evaluators can take to promote utilization. You noted that it is helpful to search for different ways to ensure that different staff members from multiple levels of the organizational structure are involved in contributing to the design of evaluation. Not only does this enrich the framework for the evaluation (as we are given a more holistic representation of what challenges we may encounter), it can help protect against participants subverting the evaluation process as it provides them with a personal stake in the evaluations success.

    Your post also led me to further investigate the usefulness of participatory sense making sessions to promote utilization. By allowing stakeholders to participate in these sessions we can better encourage them to buy into the evaluative process as they will gain an appreciation of how the evaluation will be used to develop their community (Patton, 2011). I have researched a few approaches to directing participatory sense making sessions and have noted that it can be used a helpful tool in designing program evaluations.

    I also appreciated the strategy you suggested for maintaining stakeholder’s levels of engagement throughout the process of the evaluation. By enlisting the help of participants in the data gathering process and other evaluation activities, stakeholders are not only more engaged as the evaluation is being conducted but are also given an avenue to communicate and collaborate with evaluators during the evaluation. Stakeholders can communicate challenges in implementation, areas for improvement and strategies for accurately directing the program towards its intended goals. As you mentioned, this will lead to stakeholders having an increased sense of ownership in the evaluation process and can support utilization after the evaluation has been completed.

    Thanks for all of the suggestions you offered for increasing stakeholder participation throughout the evaluation process. It was helpful to get some practical suggestions about how use can be cultivated and encouraged throughout the process of evaluation.



    Patton, M. (2011). Developmental evaluation: Applying complexity concepts to enhance innovation and use. New York, NY: The Guildford Press.


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