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EEE Week: Alda Norris on Effective Examples for Explaining What We Do

Salutations from the Land of the Midnight Sun. My name is Alda Norris. I am an evaluation specialist for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and webmaster for the Alaska Evaluation Network.

There is a lot of activity packed into a single word when you say “evaluation” or “extension.” Have you ever had someone stare at you blankly when you tell them your job title? My background is in the study of interpersonal communication, and I believe developing skills in providing effective comparisons will boost our ability to explain “what we do” to others.

 Hot Tip: A three-step pattern I learned from speech class can be very helpful.

  1. Define the term.
  2. Give examples of what it is.
  3. Give examples of what it is not.

Also, your audience will gain a deeper understanding if the examples you use are surprising. Here’s one from our state sport: Many people hear the term “sled dog” and think of a big fluffy Siberian Husky. However, many purebred Siberians are show dogs not used for mushing. Sled dogs are more commonly of a mixed heritage known as Alaskan Husky, and some are crossed with other breeds like Greyhound or Pointer!

Lesson Learned: Clients may make demands that seem unreasonable because they misunderstand the scope of your expertise or duties. Even worse, they may not seek you out at all because they don’t see a link between your title and what they need. If you’ve ever had someone think evaluation is “just handing out a survey” or extension is “just agriculture stuff” then you know what I mean! Take the time to do some awareness-raising with your target audience.

Hot Tip: Strip away the professional jargon and think about what words the public would use to describe you. Make sure those terms are included on your web page so that search engines will associate you with them. If you haven’t already, add an “About” or “FAQs” page that addresses what you do (and don’t) have to offer.

Rad Resources: Books like Eva the Evaluator are great for providing examples and comparisons of what jobs like “evaluator” entail. Maybe someone will write an Ali the Extension Agent book someday! Also, search the AEA365 archives for related discussions on the difference between evaluation and research, and how to use metaphors to extend understanding.

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.


1 thought on “EEE Week: Alda Norris on Effective Examples for Explaining What We Do”

  1. I think when you use the term “evaluation”, you have to remember that most people judge on face value. If the information you are disseminating sounds fluffy or if the web site is non-descriptive or difficult to use it will result in immediate negative evaluation. In the digital age people don’t feel they have the time to wait for the information they are searching for and they are very quick to judge depending their experience, publicly.

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