#Eval14 Grad Students Reflections Week: Danielle Cummings on GEDI Intern Reflections on the AEA Annual Conference

Hello! My name is Danielle Cummings. I am a member of the AEA Graduate Education Diversity Internship (GEDI) program and a graduate student at NYU Wagner School of Public Service studying public policy analysis.

Attending AEA’s annual conference was inspiring and edifying. As a graduate student learning analytical methods and research design, the conference was a wonderful opportunity to see practical applications of many of the tools I learn about in the classroom. I came away from the experience with both a refined vision of what a career in evaluation might entail, as well as a wealth of theories, frameworks, and skills to integrate into my work.

I’m anxious to put so many of the things I learned at AEA into practice, but the technique I’m most excited about is called solution-focused qualitative interviewing. Dr. Emily Spence-Almaguer and Shlesma Chhetri introduced session participants to an innovative approach to qualitative inquiry that they believe has improved interview participants’ candor, thereby increasing the richness of their qualitative data. Trained as a social worker, Dr. Spence-Almaguer adapted a therapeutic technique called solution-focused therapy to enhance qualitative inquiry.

Hot Tip: There are two key elements of solution-focused dialogues: 1) People are experts on their lives, and 2) interviewees filter their responses based on expectations. In practice, this means that when we approach qualitative interviews with humility, treat interviewees as the experts, and frame our questions in a way that encourages creativity, interviewees’ responses will be more frank, dynamic, and provide sufficient context to require low levels of inference by the researcher.

Here are examples of typical vs. solution-focused qualitative questions asked by Dr. Spence-Almaguer’s research team in her research on solution-focused questions, and examples of interviewee responses:

Traditional approach:

What would you recommend to improve the program?

“Nothing, they are dong an outstanding job.”

Solution-focused approach:

If I were going to give this program another $100,000 next year, what would you recommend that the program administrators do with the money?

“Put more of the [initiative’s] programs together and coordinate them to make them work more effectively.”

By constructing a question that placed the interviewee in a position of authority and invoked imagery, the interviewer elicited a response that not only provided a critique of the program, but also a potential solution to a programmatic problem.

Rad Resource: This post just scratches the surface of solution-focused interviewing. For more information on this approach, check out the slide deck from Dr. Spence-Almaguer’s AEA presentation, available for free to AEA members on AEA’s eLibrary. Make sure to check out the list of additional solution-focused literature and resources on Slide 24!

We’re celebrating Evaluation 2014 Graduate Students Reflection Week. This week’s contributions come from graduate students of Dr. Osman Ozturgut of the Dreeben School of Education at the University of the Incarnate Word, along with students from other universities. 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.

1 thought on “#Eval14 Grad Students Reflections Week: Danielle Cummings on GEDI Intern Reflections on the AEA Annual Conference”

  1. Thank you for sharing this resource, Danielle.
    Love how solutions-focused approaches frame participants as authorities of their experiences.

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