We are Valerie Hutcherson and Rebekah Hudgins, Research and Evaluation Consultants with the Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP) (gafcp.org). Started with 15 communities in 1991, Family Connection is the only statewide network of its kind in the nation with collaboratives in all 159 counties dedicated to the health and well-being of families and communities. Through local collaboratives, partners are brought together to identify critical issues facing the community and to develop and implement strategies to improve outcomes for children and families. The GaFCP strongly believes that collaboration and collective effort yield collective impact. Evaluation has always been a significant part of Family Connection, though capacity within each local collaborative greatly differs.
In 2013, GaFCP invited 6 counties to participate in a cohort focused on early childhood health and education (EC-HEED) using the Developmental Evaluation (DE) framework developed by Michael Quinn Patton. (Patton, 2011. Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use). Each county was identified by GaFCP based on need and interest in developing a EC-HEED strategy and had the autonomy to identify collaborative partners, programs and activities to create a strategy tailored to meet the needs and resources of the county. As evaluators we recognized the collaborative and their strategy formation as existing in a complex system with multiple partners and no single model to follow. The DE approach was the best fit for capturing data on the complexity of the collaborative process in developing and implementing their strategies. DE allows for and encourages innovation which is a cornerstone of the Family Connection Collaborative model. Further, this cohort work gave us, as evaluation consultants, the unique opportunity to implement an evaluation system that recognized that understanding this complexity and innovation was as important as collecting child and family outcome data. With DE, the evaluator’s primary functions are to elucidate the innovation and adaptation processes, track their implications and results, and facilitate ongoing, real-time, data-based decision-making. Using this approach, we were able to engage in and document the decision making process, the complexity of the relationships among partners and how those interactions impact the work.
Lessons Learned: Just a few of the lessons we’ve learned are:
- Participants using a DE approach may not recognize real-time feedback and evaluation support as “evaluation”. Efforts must be taken throughout the project to clarify the role of evaluation as an integral part of the work.
- Successful DE evaluation in a collaborative setting requires attention to the needs of individual partners and organizations.
- The DE evaluator is part anthropologist thus is required to be comfortable in the emic-etic (insider-outsider) role as a member of the team as well as one involved in elucidating the practice and work of the team.
We’re looking forward to October and the Evaluation 2016 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.