EERS Week: Evaluators as Codebreakers: How to Build a Culture of Evaluation by Elizabeth Grim

Hi! My name is Elizabeth Grim and I am a Senior Evaluation Consultant at The Consultation Center at Yale and a Board Member of the Eastern Evaluation Research Society (EERS). This week you’ll hear from other EERS board members and friends about the theme of our Spring conference (#EERS19) – Adapt! Evaluators in a Changing World. We hope you enjoy our blogs and look forward to engaging with you both virtually and in person at the conference.

If you know me, you know that I’m an avid reader. I recently read the book Code Girls by Liza Mundy about the female code breakers during World War II. The author describes how women were assigned a specific task group as part of the larger codebreaking process – figuring out the code, applying the code, translating the messages, etc. – and that these groups conducted their work in separate areas of the building. To further protect security and the integrity of the work, all of the codebreakers were sworn to secrecy about their positions. To this day, some of their family members still do not know the integral role that they played in history.

When I reflected on this story, I thought about how this mirrors the traditional way of doing evaluation. Often the evaluation unit or lone internal evaluator sits in their own space doing their own form of codebreaking – analyzing and interpreting data – and is viewed as tangential to the other aspects of a program. Evaluation may not be talked about except when an exchange is needed such as to write a grant or report to a funder. However, we know that data and evaluation are critical to every aspect of the program and for achieving the intended outcomes. They’re the key to breaking the code.

Since we’re different kinds of codebreakers than those during World War II, and national security is not often at stake, we evaluators don’t need to exist in silos. In fact, evaluation is often most successful when it’s infused into every aspect of the organization. So how can we build a culture of evaluation?

Hot Tips:

  • Identify a champion and/or team to work with you to help get others excited about evaluation
  • Add evaluation to an existing standing meeting agenda
  • Demystify jargon and misconceptions about evaluation
  • Regularly disseminate real-time feedback
  • Celebrate small successes
  • Solicit feedback from staff across all levels of the organization
  • Get creative – adopt a data/evaluation mascot that travels around the office sharing bite size pieces of data or share findings cookies (another brilliant idea from Stephanie Evergreen!)

Rad Resources:

  • Kylie Hutchinson’s infographic offers 30 different ways to build an evaluation culture
  • John Mayne’s brief offers suggestions for how to build an evaluation culture
  • Jacqueline Stewart’s paper provides tips for how to assess readiness and develop a culture of evaluation and research


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Eastern Evaluation Research Society (EERS) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from EERS 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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