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GSNE TIG Week: Collected Wisdom from Experienced Evaluators by Christopher Hall

This week, AEA365 is hosting GSNE Week with our colleagues in the Graduate Student and New Evaluators AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our GSNE TIG members. We hope you enjoy! -Liz DiLuzio, Lead Curator

Hello, I am Christopher Hall, MSW, ABD, a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina Greensboro in the Educational Research Methodology department, specializing in program evaluation. My experience and background have mostly been within interventions for intimate partner violence, and my training prior to starting my doctoral work was as a social worker.

My dissertation research is focused on defining and understanding privilege within the evaluation field. One of my starting questions asked participants to consider what drew them to the field of evaluation, and the evolution of their experience as evaluators. While this uncovered many experiences that fit into the framing of my research questions, it also elicited frank responses about how each participant gained insight into the profession early on and various ways that they came to understand evaluation only after gaining experience in the field.

Wisdom From Experienced Evaluators:
  • When starting in evaluation work, the practice was often initially experienced as secondary to their stated goals in their work at the time, where participants described working in environments where they observed professional evaluators doing their work, and had to evaluate a program or context with little to no experience, or saw the benefits of evaluation scholarship within a given setting.
  • Participants shared reflections on there being many professionals in evaluation who began “accidentally” with one participant directly stating that no child grows up with dreams of one day becoming an evaluator (one participant referenced “Eva the Evaluator” by Miranda & Stadler as a children’s book focused on the evaluation profession).
  • Many evaluators discussed the idea that all humans evaluate various components of their experiences, while the field of evaluation is a professionally developed framework of analysis that involves applied research practice.
  • Some participants shared that models and approaches for evaluation are more like tools than rulebooks, and discussed how over time they learned to find what features were best suited for the context, rather than sticking to only one theory, model, or approach.
  • One participant mused about the “No Child Left Behind” Act, implemented by the George W. Bush Administration, and how this can be referred to as the “No Evaluator Left Behind” act due to the public policy being heavily associated with required evaluation components.
  • Several stories from evaluators with several decades of experience led to discussion of the importance of understanding the history of the evaluation field, and how this history impacts both the way we conduct our work, but also provides an opportunity to know the limitations and potential growth that can be achieved.

Lessons Learned:

I have learned that seasoned evaluators’ experiences are incredibly diverse, and came from several different fields of study. As a graduate student in the final stages of my education, I have often thought about my years of experience in social work and how that has contributed to my evolution into professional evaluation. I think it is encouraging for all graduate students and new evaluators to appreciate these infinite and diverse entry points into the field, and how their own unique contributions will continue to enrich and develop a field that will constantly evolve as our experiences are included within our greater collective growth in evaluation. 

Hot Tip:

Leverage your personal experiences and contextual expertise! What lessons have you learned in your professional journey (in evaluation or otherwise), and what do you wish you had known early on that would be helpful to pass on to graduate students and new evaluators? Please share your reflections in the comments, and I look forward to seeing what other insights and assistance might come from this dialogue!

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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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