Jennifer Grove on One Practitioner’s Journey to Embrace Evaluation

I’m Jennifer Grove, Prevention Outreach Coordinator at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), a technical assistance provider for anti-sexual violence programs throughout the country.  I’ve worked in this movement for nearly 17 years, but when it comes to evaluation work, I’m a newbie.  Evaluation has been an area of interest for programs for several years now, as many non-profit organizations are tasked with showing funders that sexual violence prevention work is valuable.  But how do you provide resources and training on a subject that you don’t quite understand yourself?  Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned on my journey so far.

Lesson Learned: An organizational commitment to evaluation is vital.   I’ve seen programs that say they are committed to evaluation hire an evaluator to do the work.  This approach is shortsighted.  When an organization invests all of its time and energy into one person doing all of the work, what happens when that person leaves?  We like to think of evaluation as long-term and integrated into every aspect of an organization.  Here at the NSVRC, we developed a Core Evaluation Team made up of staff who care about or are responsible for evaluation. We contracted with an evaluator to provide training, guide us through hands-on evaluation projects, and provide guidance to the Team over the course of a few years.   We are now two years into the process, and while there have been some staffing changes that have resulted in changes to the Team structure, efforts have continued without interruption.

Lesson Learned: Evaluation capacity-building takes time.     We received training on the various aspects of evaluation and engaged in an internal evaluation project (complete with logic model, interview protocol, coding, and final report).  According to the timeline we developed at the beginning of the process, this should have taken about eight months.  In reality, it took over 12.  The lesson learned here is this:  most organizations do not have the luxury of stopping operations so that staff can spend all of their time training and building their skills for evaluation.  The capacity-building work happens in conjunction with all of the other work the organization is tasked with completing. Flexibility is key.

Hot Tip: Share what you’ve learned.  The most important part of this experience is being able to share what we are learning with others.  As we move through our evaluation trainings, we are capturing our lessons learned and collecting evaluation resources so that we can share them with others in the course of our technical assistance and resource provision.

Rad Resource: Check out an online learning course developed by the NSVRC, Evaluating Sexual Violence Prevention Programs: Steps and strategies for preventionists.

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.

3 thoughts on “Jennifer Grove on One Practitioner’s Journey to Embrace Evaluation”

  1. Jennifer
    Reading through your post I was intrigued as I just started a new position that has me baffled in ways. The woman who I took over for worked for the organization for 27 years and no one has any idea of what she did or where she kept her file. Albeit I had a month to train with this woman she was still very shy in sharing any of the information often not letting me do the work but hoarding it and doing it after hours.
    This being said we are going into an evaluation year and need to have specifics done and no one really knows what to do. I think that if we had a plan in place, preferable a year in advance we would be better organizationally to be inspected. Now if we had the ability to hire someone to help us plan through and build a logic model with specific expectations, deadlines, goals and expectations it would be much more instrumental in the success of this particular evaluation plan. We need time to build the skills, provide capacity building activities with our staff all of which I think we are too late for at this stage in the game. Any ideas of what we could possibly do as the inspection is only 2 months away?

  2. Hi Beth,
    The internal evaluation project we did was based on the skills we learned through training with our evaluation consultant. As we moved through the various learning segments (evaluation theory, logic models, surveys, interviews), we chose a particular element of our work to evaluate…moving through the steps as we were learning them. The Core Evaluation Team developed the logic model for the project, interviewed staff, coded the data, analyzed the data, and developed recommendations based on the evaluation. Because this was an internal project, I do not have resources to share. However, this is a resource I use quite a bit:

  3. Hi Jennifer, thanks for your post. I love the idea of establishing an internal core evaluation team. Question — Can you share more about the internal evaluation (described in the second Lesson Learned) I’m wondering if it was a training exercise, or an actual evaluation? Was it about capacity building itself? Are you able to share the materials? Thanks so much.

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