LAWG Week: Erik Mason on Learning to Become an Evaluator as a Non-Evaluator

Hi – I’m Erik Mason, the Curator of Research at the Longmont Museum and Cultural Center, located in Longmont, Colorado, about 35 miles northwest of Downtown Denver. I am not an evaluator – in fact, the word “evaluation” does not appear in my job description.  I have come to believe, however, that evaluation is critical to the success of my work as a museum curator.  Much of that realization is the result of my participation in the Denver Evaluation Network (DEN), a collection of 15 museums across the Denver metro area that have made a commitment to learn about, and do, evaluation on a regular basis.

Only two members of DEN have full-time evaluators on staff. The rest of us are a mix of educators, exhibit developers, administrators, and curators.  Our daily work is filled with school tours, fundraising, label writing, and all the other stuff that goes into making museums fun and interesting places to visit. As a result, evaluation can get short shrift. We fall back to anecdote and what we think we know.

Over the last two years, the members of DEN have been presenting at museum conferences about the work we are doing to bring evaluation to a broader community.  It has been fascinating watching people who always thought evaluation was something scary and hard, and required a large supply of clipboards, realize that it can be done in many ways.

Within my workplace, I have been pleasantly surprised as we have begun incorporating evaluation into more and more of what we do. Data gathered from iPad surveys provides a baseline understanding of our audience demographics and allows us to compare the changes in our audience as our special exhibits change. Evaluation is now a part of the development of all our exhibits. In the course of doing evaluation, I’ve seen attitudes change from “Why are we wasting our time doing this?” to “When are we doing another evaluation?”

Rad Resource: Check out this video of testimonials from members of DEN.

Hot Tip for Evaluation 2014 Attendees: Denver really is the “Mile High City” and you can take home proof of this fact with a short jaunt and a camera. A free shuttle and brief walk away from the Colorado Convention Center is the Colorado State Capitol building, a Neoclassical building that sits at the eastern end of Denver’s Civic Center Park. The Capitol building sits exactly one mile above sea level, and the official marker can be found on 13th step. The Capitol building is emerging from a multi-year restoration effort with a shiny new coat of gold on its dome, in honor of Colorado’s mining heritage. Free tours of the Colorado Capitol Building are offered Monday-Friday.

We’re looking forward to October and the Evaluation 2014 annual 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

1 thought on “LAWG Week: Erik Mason on Learning to Become an Evaluator as a Non-Evaluator”

  1. Dear Erik,

    I’m a high school vice principal (with a curriculum focus) currently taking a course in program evaluation as a part of a graduate program at Queens University in Canada. I have been reading many of the articles on AEA365 and I found this post very encouraging. My take-aways from your article are that it is important to commit to a cycle of evaluation and not to rely on anecdotal and personal reflection. Working in a school, we very often defer to this approach and so your warning about evaluation getting the short shrift is well taken. I appreciated the commitment that you and your colleagues in the DEN have made to ongoing evaluation. Raising the stakes by committing to conference presentations is a wonderful idea. At my school we often speak about the importance of sharing at conferences, and we don’t. I think that using the data and information gathered through evaluation is a great way of sharing and soliciting feedback from the wider community.

    I’m currently planning an evaluation of the implementation of a new Advanced Placement program at the school, one that is in pilot. I expect that there will be opportunities for participating pilot schools to share their implementation experiences with their colleagues and your article, along with several others on AEA365, encourage me to commit to growing a culture of evaluation at least within my school, so that this can be shared with our community of pilot schools.

    Like you, I don’t see myself as an evaluator but I will be engaging in evaluation. So by sharing the steps you and your colleagues have taken, you’ve given me confidence to take the first steps.

    Kind regards,


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.