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GEDI Week: Michelle Corbett on Working with Organizations to Build Their Internal Evaluation Capacity

Hello! I am Michelle Corbett, alumna of the AEA Graduate Education Diversity Internship (GEDI) program’s 2012-2013 cohort. For my internship, I worked at the Planning Council for Health & Human Services in Milwaukee, WI. A non-profit, community-based organization, the Planning Council offers planning, research, and program evaluation services to a wide range of organizations and community groups in Southeast Wisconsin.

The majority of my time was spent assisting Planning Council staff in the execution of a 3-year internal evaluation capacity building contract with a small non-profit that focuses on leadership and self-development of primarily at-risk African American and Latina girls. The Planning Council is committed to using participatory approaches in their work and during the course of my internship we engaged with not only organizational leadership but with front-line programming staff and program participants throughout the process of identifying relevant outcomes and selecting appropriate evaluation instruments and tools and piloting them. I would like to share some lessons I have learned from this experience.

Hot Tip: Do form an evaluation advisory group comprised of diverse individuals from the start. By including Board members, organizational leadership, program management, staff and participants, you will gain a more complete understanding of the organization, its programs, and its culture. This insight and the group’s ongoing guidance will help ensure that the capacity building process and its outcomes are relevant and culturally responsive.

Hot Tip: Don’t rush the process; building evaluation capacity is not a race. Take advantage of each opportunity to educate leadership and staff alike and make explicit evaluation’s relevance to the work each person does. Taking the time to do this will foster “buy-in” and increase the likelihood that newly implemented internal evaluation practices are sustained.

Hot Tip: Do be flexible and adaptive. Remember, building its internal evaluation capacity is not the only item on an organization’s daily To-Do list. Meetings may be cancelled and progress may appear to stall on occasion but you can take advantage of this time to work on other projects or, if appropriate, assist the organization in addressing the issues that are interrupting the capacity building process.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Graduate Education Diversity Internship (GEDI) Program week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from AEA’s GEDI Program and its interns. For more information on GEDI, see their webpage here: http://www.eval.org/GEDI  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 aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. – See more at: http://aea365.org/blog/#sthash.PBS3TXyn.dpuf

1 thought on “GEDI Week: Michelle Corbett on Working with Organizations to Build Their Internal Evaluation Capacity”

  1. Hi Michelle,

    I am currently enrolled in a graduate course on social program inquiry and evaluation. One of the dilemmas that we have recently been exploring is around use in collaborative and participatory approaches to evaluation. By engaging the program practitioners and stakeholders with the evaluation process, we know that the evaluation process and it’s findings become more meaningful and contextually relevant and should be used appropriately. However, there is also potential influence of the program practitioners and clients on the use of the evaluation process and findings as well as the risk of misuse by those who are privy to the process or results.

    I’m surprised to read that the Planning Council engaged in a 3-year contract to build the internal evaluation capacity of the non-profit; I had not anticipated that amount of time to be dedicated to one program. After reading your hot tips, I can see that your evaluation team was careful not to rush the process, to remain flexible and adaptive, and to engage stakeholders within the evaluation process right from the beginning. These tips clearly communicate a focus on ensuring a tailored, relevant evaluation for your particular client’s context in order to build their internal capacity.

    In your time with the non-profit group, what types of strategies did you use to ensure that the process and findings of the evaluation were used for their intended purposes? Did you have any scenarios where the evaluation team had to take more control of the process to ensure appropriate use?

    Thank you!
    Darla Faye

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