ENRI Week: Building Trusting Relationships to Create and Sustain a Local Affiliate by Cynthia Roberts, Adama Brown, Jen Latham, Katie Murray, David Robinson, and Dan Turner

Hi, this is Cynthia Roberts, PhD with Adama Brown, PhD, Jen Latham, Katie Murray, David Robinson, PhD, and Dan Turner, PhD. The Evaluation Network of Rhode Island (ENRI) formed as a group of evaluation colleagues who were seeking to gain collegial support in our professional evaluation endeavors. A group of us first began meeting at our health department about fifteen years ago, in our roles as public health evaluators for different programs such as tobacco control, asthma control, and community health promotion. As our paths took us to evaluation roles in other settings and organizations, our need for support and learning community did not dissipate, so we decided to continue meeting, and in 2016 ENRI was born. Since our inception, we have gathered with a shared commitment to increase equity in our evaluation practices, and have found support to live into this commitment through participating in and building trusting relationships. The ways in which we work with our partners, clients, within our organizations, and among ourselves has provided practice, reflection, and accountability space.

Folks who wrote a blog post for this week work in philanthropy, public health, higher education, and consulting. During the onset and height of the pandemic we continued to meet online and in many ways provided a lifeline for each other. Working as an evaluator can be isolating as we are often the only evaluator on a project, yet our work is co-creative. Supporting each other by sharing challenges, resources and tools, to center equity in our work has helped us grow, as individuals and as a collective. We are also fortunate to work in the smallest state where we often can be around the table with key leaders and decision makers, thus we have the power to positively influence systems.

ENRI’s mission/vision/ways of being helped us focus and coalesce to form an AEA Affiliate, allowing us more recently to focus more energy on bringing in new evaluators, learning from them, and sharing our collective experience to increase equity in our work.

Lessons Learned and Learning

We have been an official AEA Affiliate for just about a year now, and want to share some lessons we have learned and are still learning around forming a new affiliate:

  • It’s okay – possibly even optimal – to start small.
  • Keep a welcoming stance: making space for welcoming new members and leadership at all points of our evolution has helped grow and diversify our membership and collective power.
  • Hold space for meeting regularly and maintain key agenda items that promote continuity.
  • Provide space in meetings for getting to know each other: Each time we have shared with each other a little bit more about who we are, our relationships and capacity for collaboration have deepened.
  • Practice listening: The more we listen, the more likely we will hear and be able to amplify the voices of people whose perspective we need to center.
  • Remember that taking small steps towards a goal will get you there eventually. Don’t give up: We had the intention of becoming an affiliate and carried the ball over a number of years, including during the height of the pandemic, finally pulling together the team to collaborate on the application process to become an affiliate.
  • Use technology to stay connected, even when people move to other geographies: Connections you have fostered matter.
  • Work on a project together: This will help you continue to develop as an affiliate.
  • Have fun and cherish each other’s humanity: Equity work requires self- and collective transformation. We are committed to entering this work from a place of love.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Evaluation Network of Rhode Island (ENRI) Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from ENRI Affiliate 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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