Internal Eval week: Building relationships through customizing templates by Rebekah Sobel and Dana Burns

We are Rebekah Sobel, Manager, Planning & Evaluation, and Dana Burns, Data Analyst, in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Office of Planning. The Museum is a dynamic institution with a bold and ambitious strategic plan. We are a small unit responsible for leading and strengthening the Museum’s annual and long-term planning, evaluation, and monitoring practices. One of our top priorities — and greatest challenges — has been standardizing processes, systems, and language across our wide-ranging programs. The Museum is still in the early years of taking a more comprehensive and consistent approach to planning and evaluation. To help our colleagues better prioritize projects, set goals and measure success, templates quickly became our “go-to” tool.

Lessons Learned: Conversation and customization are key!

While every Museum program area has established priority outcomes, there is great variation in how they integrate evaluation and measurement in their work. Over many conversations with our colleagues, we have come to understand their challenges and how they operate, which allows us to mix and match our templates to address their needs.  In meeting our colleagues where they are, our office is building important relationships. These partnerships are key to ensuring our ability to achieve our strategic plan goals and set up our work to measure success. Sometimes, our program colleagues approach us with their own internal evaluation and planning documents that the Museum could use more widely. We will adjust their language and format, and then share the revised version with other potential users for feedback. Occasionally, our collaborative work results in a new tool that can be consistently used across the Museum.

Hot Tips:

  • It is important to remember that templates are a means to an end; they are tools to help us maximize our impact.  In order to be effective, they must address a need or solve a problem, and be both user-friendly and efficient.
  • When responsibility for next steps in evaluation work is vague or when enthusiasm for trying out new templates stalls, we keep the ball rolling and offer hands-on support. Sometimes that means filling out the template the first time or providing more one-on-one guidance.
  • We do the project management for evaluation planning, which includes managing the schedule, setting meetings, sending the meeting notes and any follow-up. We ask our partners for their input as we develop templates, and assign small tasks for them to undertake with their teams so they gain experience using new tools. If they don’t own the template, they won’t use it.
  • We bring candy or other treats to our planning meetings. We also have been told playing music in meetings helps to set a lighter mood– we are trying that next!

Rad Resources:

Here are a few of the templates we have tried and adjusted, while making new friends and co-conspirators to organizational change along the way. Try them yourself, change them up, and let us know what works for you:

 The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Internal Evaluation (IE) Topical Interest Group Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our IE 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


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