Jenny Jones on Tips for working with Community-based Organizations

My name is Jenny Jones, and I am an Associate Professor in the school of social work at Virginia Commonwealth University. I have spent a considerable amount of time engaging in evaluation research with numerous community based organizations. The majority of my work is done in communities of color, specifically within the African American community and my work almost always has a social justice nature to it. And, while this work brings me much joy, partnering with community based organizations to do this work can be very challenging. Sometimes the challenge can be so great it can make you question why you do this work.

Hot Tips: Last year while working with a community organization that provides asset building services to families at risk for homelessness, I was reminded of the core principles of evaluation that keeps me grounded in this work.

  1. Ethical behavior: Always be honest, respectful, and true to your craft, regardless of what the organization may ask of you. This sometimes requires you as the evaluator to do some value clarifying, so that you do not try to make your values that of the agency.
  2. Interpersonal skills: The ability to connect with the community that you are working with is critical. This requires communicating in a way that makes others feel valued. Particularly, for communities of color it is important that you as the evaluator speak and behave in a way that is respectful of their culture.
  3. Flexibility: Always allow yourself to be flexible in the process. Being flexible requires that you let go of your agenda and learn to work within the agency’s agenda.
  4. Set clear expectations: Tell the organization up front what you expect of them in thus process, and what you can and cannot do. Never promise what you cannot deliver.

Use humor: When all else fails, use humor! Trust me it works.

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to

1 thought on “Jenny Jones on Tips for working with Community-based Organizations”

  1. Hi Jenny,

    Great tips, all of which are applicable to organization development work as well. I did want to briefly touch on the point of interpersonal skills and demonstrating awareness and respect for other cultures. There is a great book called “Ethnicity and Family Therapy”. And while it’s a book targeted towards clinicians, it does an excellent job of thoroughly (yet concisely) discussing different ethnicities (including aspects that are typically subconscious drivers of attitudes and behaviors). By having an understanding of the population that you’re working with, you can better ensure their buy-in and overall engagement.

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