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Ed Eval TIG Week: The Importance of High Quality Relationships for Promoting Use by Dana Wanzer and Tiffany Berry

Hello! We are Dana Linnell Wanzer, evaluation doctoral student, and Tiffany Berry, research associate professor, from the Youth Development Evaluation Lab at Claremont Graduate University. Today we are going to discuss the importance of high quality relationships with practitioners in evaluations.

“In the absence of strong relationships and trust, partnerships usually fail.”

-Henrick, Cobb, Penuel, Jackson, & Clark, 2017, p. 5

Research on factors that promote evaluation use often include stakeholder involvement as a key component (Alkin & King, 2017; Johnson et al., 2009). However, collaborations with practitioners are insufficient to promote use; rather, partners must also develop and maintain high quality relationships. For example, district leaders stress the importance of building productive relationships for promoting use of evaluations in their district (e.g., Harrison et al., 2017; Honig et al., 2017).

The importance of high quality relationships has been stressed through the focus on participatory or collaborative approaches to evaluation and through the inclusion of interpersonal factors in the evaluator competencies. Furthermore, utilization-focused evaluation (Patton, 2008) states that “evaluators need skills in building relationships, facilitating groups, managing conflict, walking political tightropes, and effective interpersonal communications” (p. 83) to promote use.

Lesson Learned: In our experiences as evaluators, the programs that have made the greatest strides in using evidence to inform decision-making are those who have a strong, caring relationship with the evaluation team. We genuinely want to see each other succeed; we are friendly and enjoy being together. We do not approach the relationship as a series of tasks to perform, but rather the relationship affords us the opportunity to dialogue honestly about the strengths, weaknesses, or gaps in programming that should be addressed. Without authentically enjoying each other’s’ company, it becomes a chore to meet and reduces the informal opportunities to chat about using evidence to improve programs.

Hot Tip: High quality relationships are characterized by factors such as:

  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Dependability
  • Warmth
  • Psychological safety
  • Long-term commitment to mutual goals
  • Liking one another and feeling close to each other

Rad Resource: King and Stevahn (2013) describe interactive evaluation practice as “the intentional act of engaging people in making decisions, taking action, and reflecting while conducting an evaluation study” (p. 14). They describe six principles for interactive evaluation practice: (1) get personal, (2) structure interaction, (3) examine context, (4) consider politics, (5) expect conflict, and (6) respect culture. They also provide 13 interactive strategies that can be used to promote positive interdependence among partners.

Rad Resource: Are you interested in assessing the effectiveness of your collaboration, especially its relationship quality? Check out the Collaboration Assessment Tool, especially the membership subscale!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Ed Eval TIG Week with our colleagues in the PreK-12 Educational Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our Ed Eval TIG members. 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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  • Josh · August 3, 2018 at 10:03 am

    Thanks Dana,

    I appreciate your feedback and I will look into Interactive Evaluation Practice to see if I can find some more information about this.

    Thanks again for taking the time to look over my post!



  • Josh · July 21, 2018 at 4:04 am

    Hi Dana and Tiffany,

    I would first like to say that I really enjoyed reading this post. I am in the process of completing a course at Queen’s University and I couldn’t help but notice that there is a lot of relevance regarding your post and the recent readings that I have completed.

    A recent concept I have been looking at is ‘Evaluation Use’. I find it interesting how evaluation has changed over the years from an accountability approach to a multifaceted entity that involves collaboration between evaluators and stakeholders.

    In your article you made a statement that I agree with:

    “collaborations with practitioners are insufficient to promote use; rather, partners must also develop and maintain high quality relationships.”

    Later in your post you connect back with this idea of relationships by saying:

    “In our experiences as evaluators, the programs that have made the greatest strides in using evidence to inform decision-making are those who have a strong, caring relationship with the evaluation team.”

    I am not an experienced evaluator, but I am trying to learn more about ‘evaluation use’ and the relationships between stakeholders and evaluators.

    After reading your hot tip regarding what characterizes a high quality relationship I started wondering if you have any clear strategies on how to manage relationships that go sour between stakeholders and evaluators?

    I think at this point in time I understand what goes into fostering a strong relationship, but do you have any experience where personality or trust issues (for example) had to be mediated in an evaluation? Did any strategy work best to resolve them?

    I assume that sometimes during an evaluation all the appropriate effort has been made to cultivate strong collaborative relationships, but sometimes unforeseen issues may still arise. Almost every school department that I have worked in has had some personality and direction issues. Measure were taken such as shifting personnel and having face-to-face discussions, but even to this day these individuals can’t really work well together. I think some alternative strategies would be very helpful.

    Thank you very much for taking the time to read my comment.

    All the best in the meantime,



    • Dana Wanzer · July 23, 2018 at 11:21 pm

      Hi Josh,

      Thanks for your interest in our blog post! Your question is a great one that I’m afraid I do not have the answer to. Most of the literature I am finding on the topic discusses building relationships and trust from nothing, not trying to turn around bad relationships that lack trust. However, Interactive Evaluation Practice (Stevahn and King) might have something to say about this topic. I wish you luck; dealing with mistrust is a difficult situation that many are unable to overcome.

      I will reach out to Tiffany Berry and see if she has any recommendations!



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