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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