This is Jean King, professor of Evaluation Studies at the University of Minnesota and mother of the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute (MESI—pronounced “messy” because evaluation is that way). MESI began 20 years ago to provide high quality evaluation training to all comers: evaluation practitioners, students, accidental evaluators, and program staff and administrators. We are fortunate to have had Minnesotans Michael Quinn Patton and Dick Krueger as regular MESI trainers from the beginning and, with funding from Professor Emerita Mary Corcoran, guest sessions from many of our field’s luminaries. Over the years MESI has taught me a great deal. This entry details three learnings.
Lesson Learned: Structured reflection is helpful during evaluation training. Experiential educators remind us that merely having an experience does not necessarily lead to change; reflection is the key to taking that experience and learning from it. At MESI plenaries we regularly build in time when the speaker finishes for people to “turn to a neighbor” (groups of 2 to 4–no larger) and talk about what they took as the main ideas and any confusions/questions they have. The reflection is easy to structure, and people engage actively. If appropriate, the facilitator can ask people to jot down their questions, which can become the basis of Q&A.
Hot Tip: I never ask an entire large group, “Are there any questions?” At the end of sessions in large conferences/training sessions, the facilitator/presenter will frequently ask the entire group if there are any questions. In these situations there is often an awkward pause, sometimes lasting long enough that people start glancing nervously at each other or at the door, and then someone who can’t stand the silence thinks of a question, raises a hand, and is instantly called on. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. When I facilitate a session, I instead use the “turn to a neighbor” strategy (briefly—just a couple of minutes) so that everyone can start talking and generate potential questions. You can even call on people and ask what they were discussing in their small group.
Cool Trick: Create Top Ten lists as part of a meeting or training session. Since MESI’s inception, attendees have participated in an annual tongue-in-cheek Top Ten competition where they submit creative answers to a simile that describes how evaluation is like something else (e.g., the state fair, baseball, Obamacare). We provide prizes for the top three responses, and I am continually impressed with people’s cleverness. This year’s topic compared evaluation to interstellar space travel, and the final list is posted at www.evaluation.umn.edu. The Top Ten is a useful activity because it spurs creativity and helps a group come together around a common, low-key cause.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating MESI Spring Training Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from evaluators who presented at or attended the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute Spring Training. 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 submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.