My name is Charmagne Campbell-Patton and I am an independent evaluation consultant. About a year ago, I made the transition from my role as program manager and internal evaluator at an education nonprofit, to an external evaluation consultant. I continued working with my former employer as a client and, in my naiveté, I thought the transition would be relatively straightforward. I figured that since I knew the inner workings of the organization and had strong relationships with most staff members, it would be easy to continue to conduct useful evaluation.
Lessons Learned: My first mistake was failing to recognize and address that as the program manager, I used to be the primary intended user of the evaluation results. When I made the transition to an external consultant, I needed to be much more intentional about designing evaluations that met the needs of the new intended users.
Hot Tip: Be aware of how your position affects use. The personal factor is different in different relationships – internal and external.
Lesson Learned: Process use is different internally and externally. As a staff member, I used to be able to identify opportunities for process use in an ongoing and informal way. As an external consultant, however, I again had to be much more intentional about identifying opportunities and planning for process use.
Hot Tip: External evaluators need to be intentional about seeking opportunities to support evaluative thinking across the organization through more formalized process use.
Cool Trick: One way to engage staff is a reflective practice exercise. Bring staff together to reflect on the question: “What are things you know you should be doing but aren’t?” This question gets people thinking about potential personal barriers to using information. That sets the stage for discussing barriers to evaluation use organizationally. Next identify enabling factors that support and enhance use, and ways to overcome barriers to use.
It’s also worth noting that despite some of the challenges noted above, the transition from internal to external also gave me a new perspective on evaluation use. Once I recognized some of the barriers to use as an external consultant, I was actually able to use my position to promote use more effectively than I did while internal. The added distance gave me some leverage that I lacked as a staff member to call attention to opportunities and challenges to evaluation use across the organization.
Rad Resources: Essentials of Utilization-Focused Evaluation, Michael Quinn Patton, Sage (2012).
Consulting Start-Up and Management, Gail Barrington, Sage (2012).
Using Reflective Practice for Developmental Evaluation, Charmagne Campbell-Patton, AEA365 March 2015.
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