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.