My name is Judah Viola and I am a Community Psychologist at National-Louis University in Chicago. I also manage an independent consulting practice specializing in program evaluation and collaborative community research.
Whether boom or bust economy, it is never a bad time to build your own evaluation skills and capacity to provide value for clients. Fortunately, there is a plethora of information available about the art and science of evaluation. However, there isn’t much published or taught in universities about how to build your evaluation consulting practice.
Knowing what analyses are appropriate for a particular project and how to conduct them are necessary, but you also need to be able to translate statistics or methodology into language that all stakeholders can understand and utilize for decision making. In addition, you need to know a whole host of other things such as how long the project will take and how much the evaluation is worth to the client.
Thus, for the majority of evaluation consultants, academic training alone is not sufficient preparation, and real word evaluation experience working under others is the preferred option.
Hot Tip: Start with your existing network. Who introduced you to the field of evaluation? Many faculty do evaluation projects and look for students, or early career evaluators to support their work. In addition, many independent consultants subcontract parts of their larger projects out to colleagues and are willing to supervise and train folks with little experience.
If you don’t currently know many evaluation consultants, there are simple ways to build your network.
Hot Tip: Getting involved in local professional development organizations, promotes learning and networking, and opportunities for referrals or collaborations. My involvement in the Chicagoland Evaluation Association (CEA), a local AEA affiliate, has enabled me to connect with evaluators with whom I have worked on evaluation projects, presented at conferences, and published book chapters.
Hot Tip: Contact and listen to the experts on the phone, on-line, or at conferences. Initially, I thought that experienced independent evaluation consultants may be too busy or hesitant to talk to a newbie. However, I found that they (especially AEA members) are quite approachable and generous with their time and are quick to share lessons learned so you don’t have to make the same mistakes they did when getting started. I’ve gotten a host of great advice about everything from getting an accountant to how to come up with a pricing strategy.
Consulting and Evaluation with Nonprofit and Community Based Organizations by Judah Viola & Susan McMahon (2010) http://www.jblearning.com/catalog/9780763756888/
Independent Evaluation Consulting: New Directions for Evaluation, No. 111 (2006)
Evalbusiness: The Independent Consulting TIG email list