Hi all! Liz Zadnik here, aea365 Outreach Coordinator and occasional Saturday Contributor. I wanted to share some insights and reflection I had as the result from a recent EVALTALK discussion thread. Last month, someone posed the following request:
I’m searching for a “Why Evaluate” article for parents/community members/stakeholders. An article that explains in clear and plain language why organizations evaluate (particularly schools) and evaluation’s potential benefits. Any suggestions?
Rad Resources: Others were kind enough to share resources, including this slideshare deck that moves through some language and reasoning for program evaluation and assessment, book recommendations There is also a very helpful list from PlainLanguage.gov offering possible replacements for commonly-used words. (Even the headings – “Instead of…” and “Try…” – make the shift seems much more manageable).
Lessons Learned: Making evaluation accessible and understandable requires tapping into an emotional and experiential core.
- Think about never actually saying “evaluate” or “evaluation.” It’s OK not to use phrases or terms if they are obstacles for engaging people in the evaluation process. If “capturing impact,” “painting a picture,” “tracking progress” or any other combination of words works…use it! It may be helpful to talk with interested or enthusiastic community members about what they think of evaluation and what it means to them. This helps gain insight into relevant language and framing for future discussions.
- Have the group brainstorm potential benefits, rather than listing them for them. Similar to engaging community members in discussion of the “how” is also asking them what they feel is the “why” of evaluation. I have heard the most amazing and insightful responses when I have done this with organizations and community members. Ask the group “What can we do with the information we get from this question/item/approach?” and see what happens!
- Evaluation is about being responsible and accountable. For me, program evaluation and assessment is about ethical practice and stewardship of resources. I have found community members and colleagues receptive when I frame evaluation as a way to make sure we are doing what we say we’re doing – that we are being transparent, accountable, and clear on our expectations and use of funds.
We’d love to hear how others in the aea365 readership are engaging communities in accessible conversations about evaluation. Share your tips and resources in the comments section!
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