My name is Tamara Hamai, and I am President of Hamai Consulting, an evaluation firm focused on improving child well-being from cradle through career. Some of our current and past projects are with Collective Impact initiatives and countywide networks of organizations collaborating to create systems-level improvements to better support children and families.
We are facilitators and partners, not outside neutral “experts” typical of traditional external evaluations. The challenge is to build relationships with each participating agency, and between agencies, to move groups collectively toward shared goals, strategies, and measurable outcomes.
- Be Present and Seen. People trust people they know. For people to know you, they have to see you and see that you genuinely care about them and their context. Having at least one in-person meeting with as many of the partners/stakeholders early in the evaluation is critical. We hold regular virtual or in-person meetings with both individual and group meetings with key stakeholders and gatekeepers. We also attend events and community meetings led by partners.
- Get Insider Advocates with Power. In group settings, those who have power and influence (both positive and negative) will quickly emerge. These are people to intentionally seek buy-in and invite to be advisors or collaborators for evaluation decision-making. Key advocates can help grease the slide when you might otherwise hit points of friction.
- Be the Voice for the Unheard and Silenced. Partners with the least power or the least historical participation may be shut out or not invited to participate in important conversations. Your role is to seek out their voices, protect them, and highlight their perspectives. We’ve used focus groups and interviews with both mixed groups and groups by organization and role, confidential when there are delicate power dynamics at work. Go where participants in the system, not just staff, are congregating to hear their voices. Bring their perspectives back to the larger group. Consider providing food, interpretation, and childcare, and possibly compensation for time.
- Co-design Everything. You know a lot about how to collect data; partners will likely know what to measure and how to measure it. Use collaborative and empowerment approaches to have partners design evaluation plans and data collection procedures with you. We create opportunities for partners to identify what they want and need to know, and interpret the meaning behind results.
- Prioritize Progress Over Rigor. The real world isn’t always pretty, especially when you’re dealing with complex systems. Rigorous evaluation design and externally valid measures are nice, but shouldn’t be your first priority. First, get people to buy in to collecting information and reflecting on results to plan actions. Once evaluative thinking and fast action cycles become habit, slowly introduce discussions with the group that will increase the rigor of the evaluation. Collectively, partners know a lot about what works and what is needed.
- New Directions in Evaluation issue on facilitation (free with AEA membership)
- Article by Thomas Schwandt – Evaluative thinking as a collaborative social practice
- Collective Impact Forum
- Guide to Evaluating Collective Impact
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