Deshonna Collier-Goubil on Evaluator-Practitioner Collaboration

My name is Deshonna Collier-Goubil and I am a young scholar (newly minted PhD) who has had the wonderful opportunity to collaborate with seasoned evaluators and practitioners throughout my graduate education. Most recently I collaborated with a group of practitioners and evaluators to contribute a chapter in a newly released volume specifically written for young scholars. Our book chapter highlights the importance of collaborating with practitioners.

Lessons Learned: Collaboration has many benefits for both evaluators and practitioners. For the evaluator, receiving assistance from practitioners may help to decrease barriers to rich data, the quality of research can be improved with collaboration, and the overall research process can be improved by adding the input and assistance of frontline workers. For practitioners, evaluators can aide in obtaining research funding, clarifying research goals and expectations, and can highlight the need for institutional change or can put sound research behind an excelling program.

Research collaborations can be transformative for both the evaluator and the practitioner. One should approach a collaboration with deliberation, willing to both teach and learn. An array of cognitive, technical, and interpersonal skills are needed to develop and maintain effective collaboration. Having a firm grasp on communication, trust, honesty, respect, commitment, and flexibility can make or break a collaborative relationship.

Keep in mind, however, that just as benefits exist barriers may also arise during a collaborative effort. Evaluators should try to be as open and honest as possible with practitioners in initial negotiations to attempt to eliminate issues popping up in the future. Discussing division of labor, purpose of the collaboration, timelines for completion, how research will be conducted, data ownership, and how results will be communicated and disseminated for example can eliminate misunderstandings about these things in the future. Other barriers to be cognizant of are blurred roles, divergent perspectives, differences in degree of institutional support, competing and conflicting goals, and communicating difficult results. Despite experiencing barriers, evaluators should embrace adversity and persist in the collaborative relationship. Overcoming these barriers can strengthen the collaboration.

Overall, in a model collaboration, evaluators and practitioners develop shared goals, with consensus on a few key practice and research standards. The investment of time, resources, effort, flexibility, and the willingness to think outside of the box are required. Members of the collaboration learn to enter each other’s world and appreciate the others perspective. This is where the true learning begins.

Would you like to discuss evaluator-practitioner collaboration more with Deshonna and her colleagues? She’ll be contributing to a roundtable on the topic this November at Evaluation 2010, AEA’s Annual Conference.

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