Eval Use TIG Week: Erin Bock and Nora Murphy on Forming a learning collaborative to identify learning priorities and support evaluation use

We are Erin Bock of The Sherwood Foundation and Nora Murphy of TerraLuna Collaborative. We feel fortunate to have been partners in developmental evaluations for several years now, each of acting as an important thought partner and sounding board for the other.

We recently partnered on an evaluation for a community-wide initiative. The Adolescent Health Project, led by the Women’s Fund of Omaha, seeks to change a wicked problem–high STI and teen pregnancy rates–using a systems approach.

Project leadership, in the face of incredible urgency (the county’s STI rates are epidemic levels), knew that there was a need not only to expanded services, but to change the way the present system functions. A learning collaborative was created, facilitated by the evaluation team and made up of grantee leadership who had previously been competitors. The learning collaborative is charged with establishing learning priorities that they, as a group, want to take on. In other words, instead of releasing grant funds and expecting immediate results, the project leaders created space and time for grantees to build trusting relationships.

The foundation and the Women’s Fund of Omaha calls its work “squishy” and embraces complexity, but the learning collaborative experience has been an act of faith. It feels risky to create space for trust when there’s no objective or completion date tied to it. It is an honor that nonprofits would enter into this risky space with project leadership and it is an honor to work with evaluation professionals who can hold us steady through the grey area.

Already we’ve seen the benefits of creating this space. The issue of trauma was surfaced during the fourth learning collaborative meeting. There was a sense that something deeper is going on for young people and that to reduce risky behaviors, we needed to open ourselves up to those difficult experiences…to become culturally and experientially humble.

Hot Tip: Amongst the rush of evaluation deadlines, create intentional space to build trust with your partners.

This space for trust will ensure that we can supersede the hard boundaries of community organizations and health centers and we can get real about the issues that drive this problem in in our community. Our ability to be real with each other will drive authentic use of the evaluation for real change.

Rad Resource: Not only have service recipients experienced trauma, but so have the professionals working with them. Check out this resource to gauge secondary trauma: http://academy.extensiondlc.net/file.php/1/resources/TMCrisis20CohenSTSScale.pdf

Rad Resource: The upcoming book Developmental Evaluation Exemplars edited by Michael Quinn Patton, Kate McKegg and Nan Wehipeihana has a chapter, written by Nora Murphy, describing the process of convening a learning collaborative.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Evaluation Use (Eval Use) Topical Interest Group Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our Eval Use 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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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