Hi, we are Sam Robison, Associate Professor of Research at the Social Research and Evaluation Center (SREC) at Louisiana State University, and Joey Rutherford, Associate Director of the Center for Research Evaluation (CERE) at the University of Mississippi. We, along with Sarah Mason (from CERE) and Eden Kyse from Montclair State’s Center for Research and Evaluation on Education and Human Services (CREEHS) are founding members of the University-Based Centers TIG.
This week, the AEA365 blogs will focus on topics submitted by members of the University-Based Centers TIG. Given that this TIG is relatively new, we felt it might be useful to start things out by providing an overview of our TIG’s purpose and focus. This TIG was formed in 2019 and addresses the needs, challenges, and opportunities encountered by collegiate centers and institutes. These considerations include being embedded within large bureaucracies that can be difficult to navigate, while also providing important support through sponsored programs and HR offices, as well as institutional lawyers and administrators. Most active TIG members are primarily soft funded from grants and contracts, meaning that we operate as pseudo-businesses where we must seek out partnerships and ensure sustainable funding streams. However, this effort may be constrained by university policies and missions. For instance, hiring and promoting staff can create challenges, as institutional HR offices are often not equipped to understand and support non-traditional university positions, and salaries are often bound by HR rules. Additionally, university name recognition can be a double-edged sword, depending on the institution’s reputation in the community. For these units to thrive, administrators and staff must balance a variety of roles such as evaluator, salesperson, manager, mentor, advocate, accountant, public steward, and institutional representative, to name a few.
The primary purpose for our TIG has been to offer a space for evaluators in these situations to learn from one another, and potentially collaborate. Though centers and institutes differ in terms of substantive foci (e.g., education, health, community-based programs, etc.), evaluation approaches, and motivating principles, we share many challenges and opportunities. As such, our conversations have facilitated positive adaptation and change.
This week’s blog topics offer a glimpse into issues impacting university-based evaluation centers, and ways that these units have grown and thrived in these environments. Over the past few years, TIG members have benefited from monthly Zoom open forums, where members discuss issues such as these, in the process finding a sense of understanding and community. As such, if this is of relevance to you, we encourage you to join our TIG and attend our calls, which are announced on the TIG forum.
As a final note, our TIG recently elected a new chair, Jessica Osborne from the University of Mississippi’s CERE. Jessica, along with current program co-chairs Brad Watts (from The Evaluation Center at the University of Western Michigan) and Laran Despain (from the University of Wyoming’s Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center) will be leading the TIG over the next year.
The American Evaluation Association is hosting University–Based Centers (UBC) TIG week. All posts this week are contributed by members of the UBC Topical Interest Group. 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.