Welcome to the Evaluation 2013 Conference Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG) week on aea365. I’m Megan Grimaldi from Communities In Schools. When I think about how I’ve grown in my life, I see a cycle. I start out with a goal or a need (wanting to lose weight); I work with supportive people who can help me achieve that goal (healthy friends); I look back occasionally to see what’s been working or not working (exercise is helping, Primanti’s is not); I adjust what I’m doing (more salads); and I start the cycle over again (back on the treadmill).
That’s what led me to where I am today – my favorite part of the country, D.C. That’s what led me to being married to a man I love, and that’s what led me to a fulfilling job at Communities In Schools, which uses a similar model to ensure that students stay in school.
Lesson Learned – Take Advantage of all that Data
Not coincidentally, that’s the same kind of practice that I bring to my work on the Research, Evaluation, and Innovation team here. When I first started, we were in the early stages of taking our network of almost 200 affiliates through an accreditation process called the Total Quality System (TQS). The goal is to ensure that affiliates are aligned with our model. We evaluate this by reviewing documentation of business and operational practices and conducting interviews with affiliate stakeholders.
As our team went through this process, we realized that we were conducting about 160 interviews per semester, but using the data only minimally. We decided to adjust, using a tool that I had used previously as a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh – NVivo.
Rad Resources – Tools for Qualitative Data Collection and Analysis
NVivo is an excellent tool for gathering, coding, and analyzing data. I am currently completing the second round of our Community Stakeholder Study, which I conduct yearly by analyzing themes and trends in the hundreds of interviews that we collect during accreditation. I highly recommend consulting resources such as Pat Bazeley’s book on qualitative data analysis – and the people at the help desk at QSR International have also been useful.
I have just two other useful tidbits to think about when embarking on a qualitative journey. First, consult your experts. The people who prepare our affiliates have been invaluable in giving feedback on our interview questions. Second, be pithy. People who work with at-risk students want quick and pertinent information. With that in mind, I crafted several different targeted versions of the report, which will be used across our network to improve practice.
Hot Tip—Insider’s advice for Evaluation 2013 in DC: Join me for a conference run around the monuments this October 2013!
We’re thinking forward to October and the Evaluation 2013 annual conference all this week with our colleagues in the Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG). AEA is accepting proposals to present at Evaluation 2013 through until March 15 via the conference website. 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.