Dawn Henderson on Managing Boundaries

Hello, I am Dawn Henderson, a doctoral student in the Psychology in the Public Interest program at North Carolina State University and 2010 – 2011 fellow of the AEA’s Graduate Education Diversity Internship (GEDI). I am currently working as an evaluator with a community-based organization and wanted to share some tips on managing boundaries. So what happens when “role slippage” occurs in our role as evaluators and we are also viewed as a technical advisor, grant writer, and public relations consultant by the organization? In this blog, I would like to provide you with three useful tips that I hope can offer you some assistance in your evaluation work.

Hot Tip 1:  Know your boundaries.  Clearly outline to the organization your role and skills that you offer in the capacity of an evaluator. Depending on your background an organization will look to you as an expert across a variety of issues and you have to ensure that you are NOT there to serve in that capacity. During this process you and the organization outline the specifics of what you will be doing, how you will be doing it and disseminate findings to the organization and larger community. Most often this is done through a contract, memorandum of understanding, etc.

Hot Tip 2: Resist the gravitational pull. Depending on your background you may have a shared interest in the services the organization is providing and pulled into wanting to contribute to an altruistic goal. I believe Stake (2004) called it “confluence of spirit.” Albeit an important goal, you cannot become so immersed in what the organization is doing that you forget that you are there to evaluate the program—including the positive and negative processes and outcomes. As an evaluator you should work to communicate all outcomes effectively and accurately.

Hot Tip 3: You cannot “do” everything. Depending on your background you may have a variety of skills that could be of interest to the organization you are working with.  They may ask you to help write, review and submit a grant. You may be excited about the opportunity and tempted, but this extends your work beyond the contractual agreement and can be a distractor in achieving the original goals of the evaluation. Go back to your expectations and communicate to the organization that if they want you to do this kind of work, it has to be renegotiated in an agreement and be within the parameters of the evaluation timeline.

Rad Resources: I found Volume 108 of New Directions for Evaluation on Evaluating Nonformal Education Programs and Settings, and the wisdom of Stake’s 2004 article in the American Journal of Evaluation to be highly useful in generating these tips.

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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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