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:
- 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!
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