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Labor Day week: The Labor of Evaluation: Stakeholder Engagement’s a Balancing Act by Kellie Hall and Emmalou Norland

Hello! We are Kellie Hall, from the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO), and Emmalou Norland, from Cedarloch Research, LLC. We have worked in consort as internal and external evaluators on public health programs. During our time together, evaluation has been growing in popularity within the non-profit sector—and with that, so has the need to engage stakeholder groups from multiple levels (i.e., top executives, program managers, and front-line staff).

Lessons Learned: The importance of stakeholder engagement during evaluation—particularly as a critical component in ensuring the evaluation meets the utility standard—is well known in the field. As familiar as the concept is, however, the complex nature of engaging stakeholders in appropriate ways can be a perplexing challenge. For example, when federal funding dictates not only that a program evaluation must be done but also specifies its design, engaging stakeholders in the planning phase can seem superfluous. Furthermore, stakeholder engagement sessions typically focus on the why behind engagement, rather than the how of engagement with those of varying authoritative powers, divergent priorities, and competing needs. Understanding these contextual factors is crucial to engaging various levels of stakeholders.

Hot Tip: Engage stakeholders in the process of determining how to engage stakeholders!
Many evaluators begin their stakeholder engagement by creating a Stakeholder Engagement Plan. Instead, start one step earlier.

One way to do this is to gather your stakeholders together for a “hack-a-thon,” a process that comes from the technology field and is focused on collaborative problem solving. This highly interactive meeting starts with your stakeholders and ends with solutions tailored to address their needs. During a “hack-a-thon,” each stakeholder group works through the following stages together:

  1. Empathizing with another stakeholder group
  2. Defining a focused need for that other stakeholder group
  3. Ideating solutions to address that need
  4. Deciding on the most effective solution

(Check out an example hack-a-thon setup, including handouts, here.)

Then, you can use the results developed by the stakeholders themselves to create a “Stakeholder Profile” for each group, documenting their power, values, priorities, and engagement needs. This is now the beginning of your Stakeholder Engagement Plan!

Rad Resources: Some great stakeholder planning resources that I’ve referenced in my work include:

If you have a useful stakeholder engagement resource, please share in the comments below.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Labor Day Week in Evaluation: Honoring the WORK of evaluation. The contributions this week are tributes to the behind the scenes and often underappreciated work evaluators do. 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.

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