LAWG Week: Finding your Community of Practice by Sandra Ayoo

I am Sandra Ayoo, recent graduate of the Evaluation Studies Program at the University of Minnesota. I started practicing program evaluation in 2008, but didn’t know it was a professional field of practice until I discovered my evaluation community of practice at the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute (MESI) annual spring training in 2012. This became the turning point in my career pathway.

According to Etienne Wenger, “A community of practice is a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” This practice is aligned with AEA president Tessie Tzavaras Catsambas’ conference theme, the practice of Appreciative Inquiry, and the call for evaluators to reflect on paths to the future of evaluation.

A community of practice is a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

-Etienne Wenger

From my journey, being able to network with evaluators from different sectors and communities transformed me from working as an isolated professional to being part of a larger community. I still have the business cards from that first MESI. More importantly, I built relationships that helped redefine my career in evaluation. This includes recently finishing my doctorate in Evaluation Studies, connecting with internships, and having opportunities to reflect with peers.

Further, my community of practice introduced me to new ways of doing evaluation work. I will never forget a roundtable discussion facilitated by Jean King, “When bad things happen to good evaluators.” Until this point, I did not know I had the options of using the Program Evaluation Standards, Guiding Principles, and other ethical guidelines in less-than-ideal circumstances. Like, refusing a client’s demand to exclude negative evaluation findings.

Creating communities of practice is essential and reminds me of age-old wisdom: “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do.” Attending a national conference such as Evaluation 2019 is one way evaluators I interviewed for my dissertation said they grew in their practice. Opportunities to cultivate the communities of practice is plenty at AEA. I discovered that having an agenda going into the annual meeting is the best way to learn. My first AEA in Chicago (2016) was overwhelming. I had no agenda. I was an open book. I went to so many sessions in a day! At the end it all, I was exhausted and learned very little. Now with the app, I select sessions that fit my topic of interest and I am intentional about meeting other evaluators and thought leaders in the field.

I encourage you to share your experience with building or participating in communities of practice!

Rad Resource: Diverse communities enrich Minnesota culture –check out the diversity Minneapolis has to offer. Midtown Global Market is a short Uber or Lyft drive away. Or venture a little further to Hmongtown Marketplace in east St. Paul.

Hot Tip: I learned from my dissertation research that savvy evaluators workshop with their colleagues who did not attend local or national conferences. Schedule a coffee meet-up or other sharing event with your local affiliate, or with your personal network.

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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