EEE Week: Mary Arnold on Building Capacity

Hi! I’m Mary Arnold, a program evaluator with the Extension 4-H Youth Development program at Oregon State University. This AEA 365 entry kicks off a week of postings by members of the Extension Education Evaluation TIG, which is starting its 32nd year! Extension is the outreach arm of the public Land-Grant universities and its mission is to provide research-based education programming to the public. In essence, we take the university to the people.

The evaluation needs of Extension are vast and complex. From evaluating small local programs, to large grant-funded endeavors, to calculating the public benefit of our programs, as an organization we are always learning about effective evaluation. Extension recently shared its organizational learning through a New Directions for Evaluation Issue devoted to evaluation in complex organizations, which could be useful to other such organizations.

Rad Resource: New Dimensions for Evaluation: Program Evaluation in a Complex Organizational System: Lessons Learned from Cooperative Extension, Volume 210 2008.

In my Extension role, I spend a great deal of time engaged in evaluation capacity building. Over the years I have discovered several important elements of capacity building that lead to success:

Hot Tip: Use a four-fold framework for building evaluation capacity:

  1. Develop and use logic models to ensure sound program planning and create evaluation plans. This helps everyone to be clear on the program, its intent, and outcomes.
  2. Provide one-on-one help to educators with their own evaluation projects. Learning is best accomplished when applied to a real project that means something to the learner
  3. Facilitate small-group collaborations on a real project, allowing members to learn and practice new skills within the cycle of evaluation.
  4. Conduct larger scale, multi-site evaluations for your organization that allows everyone to participate at some level.

Rad Resource: My experience using this evaluation capacity framework is detailed in an article in the June 2006 American Journal of Evaluation.

Rad Resource: Building Evaluation Capacity: 72 Activities for Teaching and Training by Hallie Preskill and Darlene Russ-Eft (2005 Sage Publications). This detailed book is my “go-to” whenever I plan a new evaluation capacity building training. The activities are detailed, creative, and engaging for adult learners of evaluation.

Rad Resource: The Logic Model Guide Book: Better Strategies for Great Results (2nd ed) by Lisa Wyatt Knowlton and Cynthia C. Phillips (2013 Sage Publications). This book focuses on the application of logic models in the real world. Using more complex models in capacity building trainings has helped learners to appreciate more deeply the value of logic modeling as something more than a simple exercise without real meaning.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Extension Education Evaluation (EEE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the EEE 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


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