LAWG Week: Marley Steele-Inama on Collaboratively Building Evaluation Capacity

My name is Marley Steele-Inama, and I manage Audience Research and Evaluation at Denver Zoo. The Local Arrangement Working Group’s (LAWG) is excited to share with you the great evaluation work taking place in Colorado, as well as give you advice for making the most of Evaluation 2014 in Denver. Coloradoans are very proud of our state; don’t be shocked to notice many locals wearing clothing that dons the state flag’s emblem!

Denver harbors a spirit of collaboration, and this rings true for an initiative of which I’m a part – the Denver-area Evaluation Network (DEN). This network is made up of 15 different museums and cultural institutions, most of whom are a part of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), a sales and use tax that supports cultural facilities through the seven-county Denver metropolitan area. DEN’s goals are to increase evaluation capacity building (ECB) in museum professionals through a multidisciplinary model that includes trainings with national evaluation experts, attending workshops and conferences, mentoring and technical assistance, dissemination and meetings, and engaging in institutional and pan-institutional studies. Thanks to a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), all DEN members will be attending this year’s AEA conference in Denver – a first for most of these participants.

Lessons Learned: Collaboration is core to DEN, however, working together is challenging. We’ve learned that to be successful, we need:

  • Champions to steer the project, and subcommittees to engage members and activate the work.
  • Frequent in-person meetings to stay motivated and connected.
  • Flexibility and the acceptance to make adjustments quickly when needed.
  • Leadership involvement at our institutions in the project to sustain such a large and time-consuming ECB effort. Value buy-in is critical.
  • Two members from each institution as part of the project – those institutions with two members in DEN, compared to one, are more successful at transferring ECB back in their institutions.
  • To accept that pan-institutional studies don’t always work with such a large and diverse group; we’ve learned that cohort studies often work better.

Hot Tip: Colorado is home to endless adventure, and that includes its exploding addiction to running. Start a training plan now and lace up for the Denver Rock n’ Roll Marathon and Half Marathon, scheduled for Sunday, October 19, one day after the conference ends. Prefer a “hoppy” adventure? Colorado is booming with craft breweries. You won’t have to walk far to taste some of Denver’s finest ales. Taprooms close to your hotel room include Denver Beer Company, Great Divide Brewing Company, Jagged Mountain Brewery, Prost Brewing, Renegade Brewing Company, and the legendary Wynkoop Brewing Company. Of course, feel free to stick around after the conference and sample from more of Colorado’s 230+ craft breweries!

We’re thinking forward to October and the Evaluation 2014 annual conference all this week with our colleagues in the Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG). Registration will soon be open! 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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