My name is Elayne Vlahaki and I am the President of Catalyst Consulting Inc., an independent evaluation consulting firm based in Vancouver, British Columbia. I have held multiple sessional appointments teaching the Program Planning and Evaluation course within the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. You can follow me on Twitter @Catalyst_Tweets.
A colleague recently explained to me that their organization has been underwhelmed by evaluation consultants they have hired in the past. He emphasized the gap between what they were looking for and what was ultimately produced. I left this conversation thinking about the importance of understanding your clients’ needs and then delivering on them in order for projects to be successful. Here are some tips for how you can be systematic about identifying and understanding potential clients’ needs.
- Do Your Homework. Prior to meeting with a potential client, aim to learn as much as possible about the organization and broader environment in which it operates. This will demonstrate your credibility and improve the relevance of your proposed evaluation approach. Cruising the Internet ten minutes before your meeting won’t cut it. Be systematic about your research process and be sure to explore the wide range of information sources available to you, from program documents to industry reports.
- Listen Carefully. How can you understand a potential client’s needs without giving them the opportunity to tell you? This may sound simple but meaningfully listening without planning a response or thinking about solutions to their challenges can be difficult. Actively listening will show that you are genuinely interested in learning about their organization.
- Ask Questions. Asking thoughtful questions is one of the most valuable tools you have to learn about your potential client. Ask open-ended questions that will help you define the scope of their needs, which will then help you define the rough boundaries for your proposed solutions.
- Ongoing Assessment. Remember that clients’ evaluation needs will shift over time. It is critical that you review and respond to their changing needs to ensure that your evaluation findings will actually be used to inform decision-making and change.
- Learn From Business. Most often evaluation consultants are technical and subject-matter experts, but tend to be less familiar with the consulting process from a business perspective. Developing and refining our consulting skills can help us better identify our clients’ needs, but can also equip us with a range of other tools to be successful. Gail Barrington has produced a wide range of training resources about independent consulting skills for evaluators. Check out her book entitled, “Consulting Start-up and Management: A Guide for Evaluator and Applied Researchers”.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Independent Consulting TIG Week with our colleagues in the IC AEA 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.