Good morning from a hot summer day in Louisiana! My name is Alicia B. Kiremire, owner of FlowStream Management, LLC. As an engineer turned independent evaluation consultant, I’d love to share four engineering lessons that have been super helpful in my evaluation work.
#1: Nurture a “systems” way of thinking.
In engineering, we design, analyze, and troubleshoot full systems of components. We look at how things work together (or how they aren’t quite working!). Focusing on only one piece of the system usually will not yield the best solution. So it is in program evaluation. As an independent evaluator, I’ve had the opportunity to spread my wings and intentionally say “yes” to different roles in bigger systems. I’ve filled the grant writer role, the project manager, the business owner, the project funder, the community member. This has helped me not only to take on different perspectives myself, but also to meet others in various roles and hear their perspectives in situations that can be messy. A systems mindset helps me to make connections, solve problems, and bring more value to my clients. For an example of systems thinking in public health programs, see this cool video by Kylie Hutchinson, Chris Lovato and Beverly Parsons.
#2: Understand the mathematical concept of efficiency.
The engineering formula for efficiency is “power out / power in.” As a simple example, if a motor provides 90 kW of power to its mechanical system (power out) and draws 100 kW from its electrical system (power in), the motor’s efficiency is 90%. The rest is lost through electrical resistance, friction, heat, or other factors. So how have I applied this concept as an independent evaluator? I ask myself questions about how I spend my time – especially since there is no employer directing that time. For instance, which tasks have high “power out,” or add a high level of value to myself, my client, or our communities (however we define value)? Which tasks have high “power in,” or take a lot of work, brainpower, or time? On which tasks is “power lost?” When planning my days, weeks, and months, ideally I prioritize work with higher power out and/or lower power in. And my secret weapon for efficiency and planning? The Asana app!
#3: Never stop learning.
As a licensed engineer, I am required to earn professional development credits each year. This is important in the engineering field to ensure the health and wellbeing of the public we serve. I have found lifelong learning to be just as critical in evaluation. Especially as an independent evaluator, there is always a need to learn something new. Whether it’s staying informed on updates in the field or growing my skills to help my business survive and thrive, I am a student for life. This is one of the reasons I love AEA and specifically the IC TIG and my mastermind group! I’ll also give a shout-out to Stephanie Evergreen’s data visualization resources, which have been the professional development highlight of my year.
#4: Don’t forget the big picture.
With all the engineering talk about math, systems, and efficiency, it’s easy to become so focused on one calculation that we forget the “big” purpose of engineering: the public’s health, safety, and welfare. Same for independent evaluators! I strive to abide by AEA’s Guiding Principles even as I focus on the evaluation design, survey, or report at hand. While I want to contribute excellent work on each of these smaller deliverables, I also want to stay grounded in my big picture role: helping my clients to make our world a better place.
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1 thought on “IC TIG Week: 4 Lessons Learned from Engineering by Alicia B. Kiremire”
My name is Ashley Bedwell, I really enjoyed reading your article. Thank you for sharing the four engineering lessons that have been helpful in your evaluation work. Your explanation of each lesson was clearly written and explained very well. It has inspired me to create a Leadership Event Planning Model that I believe can be helpful in my teaching practice. For the past 10 years I have been teaching Career Education and Leadership at a Secondary School in British Columbia. One of my favorite parts of my job is planning school events with my students. However, sometimes it can be challenging to plan these events with an entire class. I’ve always wondered how I can organize student tasks more efficiently and the way you presented your data really resonated with me. Specifically, your second lesson on Engineering, Understand the mathematical concept of efficiency. It helped me understand and see the steps you need to take to plan something out successfully. After reading your article, I began to develop a chart that helped me conceptualize my ideas and your findings. Below is a representation of this inspiration.
(Unfortunately, I could not insert my chart in this comment box. Please copy and paste the link in your browser to view)
Once I finished making the chart, I tested it out with an Elementary Basketball Tournament I am hoping to run in the upcoming school year. For example a task I used was to create a tournament draw. I had to make some improvements but, afterwards I was extremely happy with the results. I am wondering what your thoughts are on this chart and if you have any suggestions on how to improve it?
Thank you again for inspiring me and enhancing my teaching practice.