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Melissa Cater on Visual Evaluation Methods

My name is Melissa Cater, and I am an assistant professor and evaluation specialist at Louisiana State University AgCenter.

“At its most fundamental, visual research draws on our basic

capacity to interpret the world through our sense of sight.”

                                                Christopher J. Pole

Visual evaluation methods leverage the power of art, photography and video as a lens for exploring program outcomes. The images provide a bridge between thought and verbal expression.

Hot Tips:

Pose a simple question to which participants can respond with artistic expressions, photographic representations, or video productions. In two recent evaluations, we asked school-aged children to draw a garden. It was a very simplistic request, but the results were quite insightful.

Provide training on equipment and/or software. While this seems to be very obvious, we sometimes overlook the most basic needs. A brief refresher on equipment operation is beneficial for everyone, particularly if you are providing equipment with which everyone is not familiar. Simple tricks for framing shots, using ambient lighting, and getting sounds bites are always useful. Finally, don’t forget to offer guidance in using photo and video editing software.

With the evolution of social media, the opportunities to use mobile devices, like cell phones and tablets, bring a whole new dimension to this approach. Collaborative planning between the evaluator and participants is essential for success. While the mobile platform (e.g. cell phone, tablet, social media, apps) may be familiar, the evaluation process will probably be very new.

Allow time for both individual and group reflection. Participants must first delve into their own thoughts. Providing a structured process for guiding this reflection is especially useful with youth. We’ve had success using graphic organizers for this step. The advantage is that the graphic organizer may then be used to scaffold group discussion.

As group discussion evolves, use group facilitation skills to help participants compare and contrast their individual interpretations. Ultimately, the individual contributions become part of the larger group story.

Rad Resource:

Pole, C. (2004). Visual research: Potential and overview. In C. Pole (Ed.), Seeing is believing? Approaches to visual research. San Diego, CA: Elsevier.

This contribution is from the aea365 Tip-a-Day Alerts, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. Want to learn more from Melissa? She’ll be presenting as part of the Evaluation 2012 Conference Program, October 24-27 in Minneapolis, MN.

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