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Facilitating the Use of Evaluations by Sara Vaca

Hi, I’m Sara Vaca, independent consultant, helping Sheila curate this blog and occasional Saturday contributor. I haven’t been an evaluator for a long time (about 5 years now), but I have facilitated or been part of 16 evaluations, so I start getting over the initial awe of the exercise, and I am starting to be able to take care of other dimensions rather than just “surviving” (that is: understanding the assignment, agreeing on the design, leading the data collection process, simultaneously doing the data analysis, validating the findings, debriefing the preliminary results, finalizing digesting all these loads of information for finally packaging it nice and easy in the report).

I want to think that I incorporate (at least I try to) elements of Patton’s Utilisation-Focused Evaluation during the process, but until recently, my role as evaluator ended with the acceptance of the report (which is usually exhausting and challenging enough), taking no concrete actions once I had delivered it, partially because: a) it was not specified in the Terms of Reference (or included in the days of contract), or b) I usually didn’t have the energy or clarity to go beyond after the evaluation.

However, I’ve understood since the beginning of my practice that engaging in evaluation use is an ethical responsibility of the evaluator so I’ve just recently started doing some shy attempts to engage myself in it. Here are some ideas I just began implementing:

Cool Tick: Include a section in the report called “Use of the evaluation” or “Use of this report” in the document, so you (and them) start thinking of the “So what?” once the evaluation exercise is finished.

Hot Tip: Another thing I did differently was to elaborate the Recommendations section, but not in a prescriptive manner. Usually I would analyse all the evaluation ideas for improvement, and I would prioritize them according to their relevance, feasibility and impact. This time, I pointed out the priority areas I would focus on, and a list of ideas to improve each area, without clearly outlining what to do. Then I invited the organization to discuss and take that decision internally, and maybe forming internal teams to address each of the recommendations to gain more ownership.

Although, in occasions, clients have reached out months/years after the evaluation for additional support, this time I proactively offered my out-of-the-contract commitment to support, in case they think I could be of help later down the road.

Rad Resource: Doing proactive follow-up. I’ve read about this before, but haven’t yet done it systematically yet. So, I will set a reminder 3-6 months after the evaluation and check on how they are doing.

Hot Tip: I just published a post understanding Use and Misuse of Evaluation (based on this article by Marvin C. Alkin and Jean A. King), that helped me realize some dimensions of use.

As you see, I’m quite a newbie introducing mechanisms and practical things to foster use. Any ideas are welcome! Thanks!


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  • Erica B Holgate · November 4, 2018 at 10:01 am

    Hi Sara,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post. I am new to the concept of program evaluation, although I have been witness to many consultation projects that sat dormant and were never utilized or implemented. One of my past employers had a total of six “strategic plans” that were sitting in the closet – all saying similar things about the non-profit organization and nothing was ever done with them. I think that the follow-up approach you are about to implement would be really interesting. I also love the idea of sitting down and working through prioritizations instead of outlining them yourself. What a great way to build interaction and an implementation strategy with stakeholders and users!

    As you mentioned, you felt you were “surviving” the first five years of evaluation. Honestly, I feel like I’m doing a bit of that right now in my evaluation use course (part of my Master’s program). I’m intrigued by thought-leadership, such as Patton and Alkin, but I’m wondering if there are any resources you have found particularly useful in your transition from “surviving to thriving”?

    Thank you in advance your time and assistance.



  • Jenny McCullough Cosgrove · June 4, 2018 at 11:21 am

    Sara this post resonated with me and gave me a great way to illustrate to my clients how we can work together to successfully evaluate. I always appreciate your visuals!


    • Sara Vaca · June 5, 2018 at 3:03 pm

      Glad to hear that, Jenny!
      Many thanks 🙂


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