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Laurel Lamb on the Golden Rule for Evaluators

My name is Laurel Lamb and I’ve been a practicing evaluator (although sometimes under the guise of organizational development) for over twenty years. When I sat down to write, I wanted to contemplate what I would share with someone new coming into the field. What have I learned that you couldn’t find in a textbook or look up online?

Lesson Learned: The Golden Rule must apply to every aspect of my evaluation practice: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What does this mean for the evaluator?

  • Do your background research: Today, it is easier than ever to learn the basics about many programs online or from their literature. Take the time to learn everything you can before meeting with program staff and then verify that which needs to be verified. You’ll demonstrate that you value their time and care about their program, and you’ll have the basic understanding that you need to ensure that you can be productive during your time together.
  • Show up with a smile and positive attitude: Your attitude and demeanor will set the tone for the evaluation and for the myriad interactions needed to make it happen. Is there someone in your life – not someone you love (for when in love we don’t always see straight) just someone you know – who brightens your day each time you see him or her? You can be that person. Each new client, each meeting, offers an opportunity for you to bring forth the very best of your authentic self and to be a positive and valuable contributor to the work at hand.
  • Demonstrate respect for your human subjects: Respect must go far beyond just what we learned in college about full disclosure and allowing for opt-out (which by the way I would argue has become so arduous as to make some human-subjects approved surveys include extended linguistically challenging preambles that are disrespectful of the very people they intend to protect). Respect must include meeting your subjects in their ‘space,’ and on their terms.
  • Don’t collect data without having a plan for using it: When you ask questions to satisfy little more than a client’s curiosity, you are wasting everyone’s time. This must be distinguished from collecting data to follow an emergent line of understanding or collecting data in an open-ended way in order to ensure that you are not unduly narrowing possible responses – both of which are valid and essential forms of inquiry.
  • Say ‘Thank you’: Saying thank you demonstrates that you value the investment that they have made in the evaluation and can show that you’ve listened and learned. It exemplifies basic human kindness. Say thank you in words – in person, via email, through a newsletter. Or say thank you with a small gift – a poem, a perfect piece of fruit (‘orange you happy it’s Friday! Thanks for all you’ve done this week’), or a book from your bookshelf passed on to someone who’d value its insights.

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.

2 thoughts on “Laurel Lamb on the Golden Rule for Evaluators”

  1. Pingback: Oksana Barley on the Evaluation Emergency Preparedness Toolkit | AEA365

  2. Demonstrate respect for your human subjects: well said about an important ethical issue… are our consent forms really enabling consent?

    Don’t collect data without having a plan for using it: our clients and we ourselves need to understand the rationale for each question. If this is not clear we run the risk of an unethical approach and action.

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