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EEE TIG Week: Teresa McCoy on Agile & Lean Evaluation Capacity Building (AL-ECB)

I am Teresa McCoy, Assistant Director at the University of Maryland Extension (UME). I was hired 10 years ago with responsibility for evaluation and assessment across all program areas of agriculture, family and consumer sciences, environment and natural resources, and 4-H youth development. There was not a lot of evaluation knowledge and practice in the organization at that time, but there were many high expectations for what I could achieve.

In a situation of n=1 (me), I had to get started on evaluation capacity building (ECB). The critical decision was how to go about that work. Fortunately for me, four circumstances came together to point the way. First, the publication of a special winter issue of New Directions in Evaluation (NDE), “Program Evaluation in a Complex Organizational System: Lessons from Cooperative Extension,” provided much guidance to me.

Rad Resources:

Second, I am fortunate to be married to a software developer who has deep expertise in human interaction design and agile and lean software development. Over the years, I peripherally absorbed some knowledge and listened to stories from his industry. I realized my strategy to build evaluation capacity in UME had to include one of the principles of agile management: “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done” (Agile Alliance, nd).

Rad Resources:

  • Read the Agile Manifesto Principles at https://www.agilealliance.org/agile101/
  • Want more in-depth information? Read Learning Agile: Understanding Scrum, XP, Lean, and Kanban by Andrew Stellman & Jennifer Greene

Thirdly, soon after starting in the position, I began working with an agriculture extension educator who had a natural inclination for evaluation work. (In full disclosure, her area of expertise is agricultural economics.) A change in some of her position responsibilities gave us the opportunity to develop an official agreement that she would receive a small administrative stipend for taking on evaluation leadership in agriculture. With that guidance, many of our new Extension Educators enter the job with enthusiasm for evaluation as part of their work.

Hot Tip:

  • The fourth and final circumstance, and the most critical, was that our Program Leaders/Assistant Directors supported me and the effort to build evaluation capacity. Without their support and leadership, building capacity would have been difficult, if not impossible.

About four years ago, UME added a Coordinator of Program Development and Evaluation (PD&E) to my evaluation department. Now, n=2, plus the rest of the capacity built within the program areas. I like to call my approach “Agile and Lean Evaluation Capacity Building” (AL-ECB).

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Extension Education Evaluation (EEE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the EEE AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EEE 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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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