EPE Week: Yvonne Watson on Mission Possible: Evaluation Capacity Building at EPA

Hi everyone! I’m Yvonne M. Watson, a Program Analyst in the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Evaluation Support Division (ESD). As chair of the American Evaluation Association’s Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group, I invite you to learn more about evaluation and environmental issues this week.

Evaluation units across the federal government vary in size, budget, expertise and mission/ mandate. ESD manages evaluation studies, but a significant part of our mission is to build evaluation capacity and establish a culture of program improvement and continuous learning. To build evaluation capacity and a performance management culture, we have experimented with the following activities: 1) an internal competitive proposal solicitation process that provides funding and technical assistance for evaluation studies; 2) the delivery of performance management training; 3) the design of tools and products (e.g., program evaluation guidelines); and 4) supporting internal and external evaluation networking forums. The tips, and lessons learned below reflect some of the insights gained over a 12-year journey to build evaluation capacity and a performance management culture at EPA.

Lessons Learned:

  • Champions. It’s challenging to build a “program evaluation” culture without the ongoing support of career executives, and the strategic support of political appointees. Not all managers believe “Program evaluation is good for you.” However, when you find one that does, don’t let go! Sustain their interest with information about evaluation basics and “nuggets” about evaluation results. (A nugget might be a paragraph describing key findings, outcomes and how the evaluation is being used.) The best evaluation champion is an educated and equipped champion. Developing these internal champions often takes time, thought and intentionality but you’ll find that in the long run, the juice is worth the squeeze!
  • Communication. Crafting the right “message” to communicate the value of program evaluation to senior managers, mid-level managers and program staff is an art. The right (or wrong) message can turn the tide from “evaluation apprehension” to “evaluation appreciation”. What is your program evaluation message? – “Try it, you’ll like it.” If you have one re-examine it. Is it easily understood? You’ll also need to face the sobering reality that even the best message will fall flat on closed ears.
  • Credibility. Building credibility within your organization occurs one evaluation at a time. It’s important to build a cadre of internal evaluation staff and external evaluators (contractors and consultants) who can demonstrate technical competence and knowledge of state-of-the art tools and techniques available to conduct high-quality rigorous program evaluations. In addition, invest the time and resources needed to develop a portfolio and body of work (evaluation studies) that increase your internal client’s confidence and demonstrate your organization’s evaluation competence and capacity.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Environmental Program Evaluation Week with our colleagues in AEA’s Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EPE 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. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.