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Independent Consulting TIG Week: Being a Team of One Doesn’t Mean You’re Alone: When and How to Collaborate by Min Ma

Hello! My name is Min Ma. I’m the Founder and Principal of MXM Research Group, a research and evaluation consulting firm whose work is grounded in data + soul (dataplussoul.com). I’m here to reflect on team collaboration in service of equitable evaluation and what this might look like when you’re a team of one. 

A bit about me: I decided to “try out” evaluation consulting nearly 10 years ago. Going solo was an opportunity to develop my own voice and style in every aspect of the work – from building an evaluation plan to data storytelling to facilitation. While going independent was a great choice for me, I realized early on that my best work was done in collaboration with others. Three years ago I made the decision to build a small, permanent team to be able to test, share, and grow a new vision for building a consulting practice around data + soul. We’re now a cozy team of 8. While this decision has completely transformed my job description, I haven’t looked back. 

Lesson Learned

Take the time to design spaces for relationship building, reflection, and dialogue among your collaborators. Each individual that has joined our team at MXM Research Group has added incredible richness, depth, and perspective to both our project work and our regular Reflective Practice. We are better able to embrace complexity in our work, recognize a broader diversity of contexts and opinions, and keep each other accountable to the grounding principles of our practice as we move through each project. The underlying trust-building process looks different when collaborating with a group of independent consultants or a permanent team. Either way, it’s worth taking the time to figure it out.  

Hot Tip

Set aside time at the beginning of each project to consider with your collaborators: 

  • What lenses, biases, and perspectives does each team member bring to this work? How can we use them in service of this project? How might we mitigate biases or gaps? 
  • How might individuals with different identities might design the evaluation? How might their perspectives influence which questions to ask? Who to ask? 
Image: A card from our data equity deck that poses a reflection question to be asked throughout the project: What assets, interests, and gifts does your team bring to this work? What lenses, biases, and perspectives do you/they bring? What perspectives are missing?

Hot Tip 

For solo practitioners:

  • Join projects as a subcontractor or contract others. Early on in my solo practice, I found it essential to bring team members on as Advisors to broaden my own lens when designing evaluations or analyzing data. Subcontracts are a great way to build in thought partnership, mentorship, and modeling on a project basis. 
  • Engage in communities of practice that can offer similar thought partnership, a wide range of perspectives, and professional development. For me, this was getting to know other evaluators through my local AEA affiliate (Greater Boston Evaluation Network), through the IC TIG, and regular meetups with a trusted group of eval peers.   

Rad Resource 

Image: The MXM team, all smiles after hosting our inaugural data + soul festival.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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