My name is Laura Myerchin Sklaroff and I am a Project Manager, Researcher, and Evaluator with Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, Clinical Resource Management (LAC DHS CRM). My focus is on health care quality improvement for low income and underrepresented populations; prior to LAC DHS CRM I coordinated the nationally recognized practice-based research network, LA Net, and I have worked on several federally and foundation funded national and regional studies. I also teach a graduate level Evaluation Procedures class at the Tseng College, California State University, Northridge.
Hot Tips: Often evaluators early in their careers will become part of an evaluation or research team mid-project. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve collected over the years that have helped me when I’ve joined projects (in roles from research associate to study coordinator to lead evaluator). I hope that these go beyond the obvious, such as reading research proposals and doing lit reviews, to help new evaluators ease in as simply as possible.
1) Accept the things you cannot change. Projects may be organized in ways that you disagree with and timelines and deadlines might seem out of order, however, when you come to a project already underway trust that the people who set up the evaluation or study know what they’re doing and did things for a reason.
2) Have the courage to change the things you can. If you do see something that makes absolutely no sense, ask about it. There can be an inclination to not challenge a project’s method when you’re the new person but remember you were brought on for a reason. Pick your battles and use your best judgment.
3) Check the books. If possible, ask to see the original budget and budget justification as well as the current spending reports. Compare how funds were intended to be spent versus how they’re currently being spent. Ask about discrepancies between original allocations and spending. This can give good insight into project priorities.
4) Make a list. Check it twice. This is valuable for any member of an evaluation or research team but I’ve found it especially helpful when I’ve served as a study coordinator. Create a table with the following column categories: Name, Title, Role, Organization, Phone Number (include office and cell), Email Address, Mailing Address, Related Deliverables/Tasks, Notes. Fill in the table with every person you come into contact with for the evaluation. Always keep it updated. Check it before going to a meeting. The notes section can be particularly valuable because here you can include reminders for yourself – everything from the phonetic pronunciation of a person’s last name to the best times of day to contact a person.
5) Conduct informal site visits and interviews. As soon as possible, conduct site visits and do informal interviews with various stakeholders and other team members. Make it clear that you’re doing these to determine the best way to help others do their jobs and are not trying to find flaws in their work. Be polite. Be friendly. Bring food or coffee if you can.
6) Be easily accessible to stakeholders and other team members. Make sure everyone has your contact information. If you feel comfortable doing so, give out your cell phone number. In the three years I spent doing research with community health centers and clinics in Southern California I gave every stakeholder I worked with my cell phone number and only was called twice after business hours. However, I firmly believe I increased my stakeholder’s buy-in to the project by giving out the number and telling them to call whenever they wanted. This let stakeholders know I appreciated the extra work they were doing and that I was most interested in accommodating their schedules.