MVE TIG Week: Pat Clifford on Context and Complexity in Military and Veteran Evaluation

I’m Pat Clifford, a consultant working with the Tristate Veterans Community Alliance and Program Chair of the Military and Veteran Evaluation (MVE) TIG. A prominent issue for our collaborative and many other veteran support organizations is the successful transition from military to civilian life. When approaching this task, it’s important for evaluators to recognize some of the primary contextual drivers.

  • Military transition is a life transition: And, like other transitional periods, it comes with unique risk and protective factors.
  • Some stakeholders and factors are common: For example, there are similar national stakeholders like the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Defense (DoD) as well as a strong military culture. National changes like draw downs and restructuring impact everyone across the board.
  • However, transitions play out in local contexts: Each region has different demographics, organizational players, and linkages to bases and installations.
  • And the “Sea of Goodwill” can intensify problem: Many organizations and individuals are quick to start providing services thinking they are the only ones out there. This means that resources are often not targeted effectively or coordinated.

All of these factors contribute to a complex environment for evaluators. Often well-meaning programs and models (especially those that are implemented top-down) tend to run into roadblocks in practice. To counteract this, there are things that evaluators can do to engage with their local context and drive relevance. 

Hot Tips:

  • Prioritize relationships: Often programs are focused on evaluating programs as if they operated in a social vacuum. The reality is that program outcomes hinge on credibility with their target population, and that means relationships. Intentionally explore how programs build trust and display credibility. From my experience, word-of-mouth is key in the veteran space; and cultural missteps can lead to long-term consequences.
  • Help programs recognize and agree on roles: No organization can do everything well. Too often programs want to be the “one stop shops” to help solve all of a veteran or military families’ needs. Evaluators can work with stakeholders to think critically about their scope, identify their roles and set up processes to ensure they work in partnership, not in isolation.
  • Encourage leadership by empowering: Work with programs to explore how they create a space for indigenous leadership. While national models and top-down initiatives can help bring solutions “to scale”, often they work to disempower local leaders and veteran stakeholders. Evaluators can help become a voice for local knowledge and expertise that can help inform larger initiatives.

Rad Resources:

Tristate Veterans Community Alliance

VA Office of Policy and Planning

Ending Veteran Homelessness by Addressing Failed Transition Policies

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating MVE TIG Week with our colleagues in the Military and Veteran’s Issues Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our MVE TIG members. 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.

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