LAWG Week: Building Community: Building the Minnesota Evaluation Community – Creative and Innovative Approaches by Jean A. King

This is Jean King, Professor Emerita at the University of Minnesota and founder and former director of the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute (MESI), so named because, as we all know, evaluation is MESI/“messy.” Building a collaborative community of program evaluators and clients is one consistent MESI goal, enacted in a variety of ways:

  • A website that provides evaluation resources
  • Community projects and internships as part of evaluation coursework
  • A series of evaluation e-books
  • For several years, a mechanism linking non-profits with University students for “high quality, low-cost” evaluation services
  • An annual Spring Training divided into two sections: (1) two days of one- or two-day long workshops taught by local national experts like Dick Krueger and Michael Patton, and (2) two/three days featuring non-Minnesotan experts (e.g., Carol Weiss, Michael Scriven, Ricardo Millett, Stafford Hood), shorter sessions grouped for novice and experienced evaluators, and creative offerings like field trips to local firms or to non-profits for collaborative problem solving

To create a spirit of fun— with thanks to David Letterman and, truthfully, because I have a silly sense of humor—one activity at each Spring Training is a Top Ten contest that compares evaluation to something. Knowing that evaluators will soon arrive in Minnesota for Evaluation 2019, I wanted to share some of what I consider the best answers to Minnesota-related topics. See if you agree.

Why Program Evaluation Thrives in Cold Climates

  • The cold paralyzes people’s fight or flight reaction to evaluation; people are already quaking in their boots.
  • On a cold night, there’s nothing like a warm fire, a glass of port, and a stratified random sample survey.
  • Evaluators may wear down, but they don’t wear down.
  • For much of the year it’s easier to collect hard data.
  • It’s the one place where evaluators can walk on water for much of the year.

Why Evaluators from Minnesota Stand Out in a Crowd

  • They’re the only ones who understand why evaluation is really MESI.
  • They may have lutefisk on their breath.
  • The Lake Wobegon effect–they’re all above average.
  • They don’t stand out in a crowd–they’re too nice to outshine anyone else.
  • Actually, you’ll never find them in a crowd because they’re always “oot and aboot.”

Why Program Evaluation Thrives in the State of Minnesota

  • Minnesota is the land of 10,000 non-profits and collaboratives.
  • Minnesota, l’étoile du Nord (the star of the North), is home to several evaluation “stars.”
  • Minnesotans are too nice to say no when asked to participate in evaluations.
  • The extreme temperature range from sweltering heat to frigid cold insures that only the toughest studies survive.
  • In Minnesota you are never more than 315 miles away from Michael Quinn Patton.

Lesson Learned: Evaluators are incredibly creative people, and many have finely honed senses of humor. Compiling and rank ordering each year’s winners is a real-time challenge. I use the audience response at the final plenary (applause, groans, laughter) to create the ultimate order.

We’re looking forward to the fall and the Evaluation 2019  conference all this week with our colleagues in the Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG). 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 contribute to aea365? Review the contribution guidelines and send your draft post to

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