MSI Fellowship Week: Always Changing, Always Improving: Extension Education Evaluation by LaJoy R. Spears

Hello. My name is LaJoy R. Spears, Program Development and Evaluation Specialist at New Mexico State University, Cooperative Extension Service. As an evaluator, AEA MSI Fellow, and member of the Extension Education Evaluation TIG, I found the AEA Public Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation to be helpful in building evaluation capacity, identifying areas of program improvement and ensuring accountability for the organization. Lessons learned in establishing essential practices and implementing practical strategies are highlighted below. 

Lesson Learned:

Establishing essential practices

Acknowledge the complexity of evaluation. 

  • Both the evaluator and colleagues should understand program development and evaluation practices. Otherwise, evaluation capacity building efforts will be stifled. 
  • Reframe essential practices and implement strategies that lead to systems change.

Recognize the dynamics of power.

  • Collaborative efforts and partnerships with other public serving organizations and individuals has the potential to collectively impact system and population change. The Cooperative Extension Service is the outreach arm of the Land Grant University, but not the only organization focused on social, economic, and environmental changes in our communities. 

Recognize and eliminate bias in social relations.

  • Help colleagues understand the components of program development and evaluation design. Reduce discomfort by demystifying the process of designing and conducting program evaluations. 

Employ culturally appropriate methods. 

  • Adult Education theory and practices are appropriate for guiding the development of training materials, establishing best practices for Extension Education evaluation and including feedback from communities served.
  • Develop culturally relevant methods with rigor, and improve techniques used during consultations with colleagues. This approach provides insight and supports their plans of work.

Lesson Learned:

Practical Strategies

Engage Stakeholders 

  • Building relationships is a start, understanding work ethic and what is of importance to colleagues offers perception and perspectives.
  • Step back, cancel the noise and avoid immediately creating new mechanisms, instead search for innovation within the organization. Avoid interference when possible and respond accordingly to obstacles. 

Describe the Program 

  • Respect past efforts while easing away from familiar and comfortable practices that are not aligned with outcome, evaluative thinking. 
  • Assess organizational needs with available resources in mind. Trying to fit in or replicate partner institutional processes can be awkward, lacking direction, and dismissive of local needs. 

Focus the Evaluation Design 

  • Establish practices and strategies to increase understanding of Extension Education, program development models, outcome thinking, and program evaluation. This is critical in the progression toward documenting accountability, program improvement and education.

Gather Credible Evidence 

  • Gathering relevance, accurate perspectives, and voices of colleagues supports establishing essential practices and implementing strategies that contribute to system and population change.
  • Identify appropriate professional development opportunities reflective of both personal (evaluator) and organizational needs. Assessing both proved to be mutually beneficial. 

Justify Conclusions

  • Gain a better understanding of when and how collective impact contributes to system and population change.
  • Remind Extension Educators how everyone plays an integral part in the evaluation process, and they are also beneficiaries of the results.

Ensure Use and Lesson Learned 

  • Use accessible, digestible, and actionable data and outcomes thinking to enhance work, design movements and initiatives that work to free people from oppression, discrimination and prejudice.

Rad Resources:

  • Evaluation Methods
    • The Sociologist as Detective is a fun book with a unique angle on evaluation and Sherlock Holmes. 

The American Evaluation Association is AEA Minority Serving Institution (MSI) Fellowship Experience week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from AEA’s MSI Fellows. For more information on the MSI fellowship, see this webpage:  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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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