IC TIG Week: Reaping What You Sow by Martha Brown

Hello, I’m Martha Brown, and I started my consulting business in 2016 thanks to some encouragement from a group of passionate independent consultants. I was recently inspired by a keynote speaker, Lea Bill, at the 2018 CES Conference. She displayed a logic model that was circular and artistic, and it included the values of the people she worked with. I immediately thought of one my clients, a botanical garden, and how I could use their stated values to deepen their thinking about their programs.

Like Kylie Hutchinson’s data parties, I decided to have a “logic model party” full of big sheets of paper and lots of colored markers. We started by determining outcomes, which had never been done. My job was to ask the right questions to the garden’s Executive Director, the Program Manager, and a very hands-on and knowledgeable board member. This was more difficult than I imagined, as the Program Manager’s thinking constantly defaulted to activities. But after an hour, we had our first working draft of outcomes.

Kids & Schools desired outcomes handwritten chart

Using Bob William’s questions about assumptions, I guided them into digging deeper about why they believed these were reasonable outcomes. From there, we worked backwards and after 3 hours, had a very colorful logic model taped to the wall. It is only the beginning of our work, but in the process of making the first draft, something beautiful sprouted. They decided to approach one school and invite them to participate in a whole-school partnership, which we can evaluate in several ways over three to five years. None of us saw that coming, and it is a great idea. My work with this client went from a very small 2-year contract for assessing student learning in a single program to a potentially long-term contract evaluating a new model in science education. Because I don’t hesitate to share that I explore new approaches and bring them to our work together, my short-staffed client trusts they have a real partner – a consultant and evaluator – who looks out for them. It’s a win-win.

Lessons Learned:

Ask the right questions. Then…

Step back. While the team brainstormed, I took notes on big pieces of paper that led to 7 pages of typed minutes.

It can’t all be done in one session. We have more work to do, but we planted many seeds on fertile soil.

Organic is good. If the seeds we planted grow, I will be conducting a longitudinal evaluation on a new model that may have an impact on how educators think about teaching science.

Hot Tips for Independent Evaluators:

Work with organizations and programs that inspire you. Have fun at your job.

It’s OK to start small. You never know what will come of it.

Get out of the way. Your clients are the experts.

Learn as much as you can about as much as you can – and bring it back to your clients.


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating IC TIG Week with our colleagues in the Independent Consulting Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our IC TIG members. 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.

1 thought on “IC TIG Week: Reaping What You Sow by Martha Brown”

  1. Thanks for the shout out Martha!

    I just wanted to note that my colleague, Corey Newhouse at Public Profit, has a great resource for data parties called Dabbling in the Data (http://www.publicprofit.net/Dabbling-In-The-Data).

    Dana Powell also has a great Interpretation Workshop overview (http://www.danapowell.org/Consulting/resources.html).

    I also have a short one-page tip sheet on data parties on my website (http://communitysolutions.ca/web/resources-public/).

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