NC Evaluators Week: Expanding an AEA affiliate: Lessons from RTP Evaluators-turned-NC Evaluators by Jessica Sperling

Hello, everyone! My name is Jessica Sperling, and I work in evaluation-aligned arenas based in Duke University: leading the Applied Research, Evaluation & Engagement area at Duke’s Social Science Research Institute, co-directing Evaluation and Strategic Planning for Duke’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and teaching evaluation and community-partnered research. 

More importantly for this post, though, I am a former Board President for an AEA regional affiliate – formerly RTP Evaluators, focused on central North Carolina, but now geographically-broadened North Carolina Evaluators. Today kicks off our affiliate’s aea365 week. We are so excited to contribute to our evaluation learning community! By way of affiliate introduction, this post focuses on processes and lessons in our affiliate’s shift to a state-wide lens, which occured in 2020-21.

Our Process

Why transition to a wider geographical area? There are a number of factors that led to this decision. For instance, RTP Evaluators was the only AEA affiliate in the state, and while most of our members lived in the Research Triangle Park (RTP – typically including Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill) area, we’d grown to include members in other parts of North Carolina. State-wide affiliation would enhance our network, as well as reach more people with professional development and career opportunities. Because of COVID-19, we’d delved into hosting meetings & events to a virtual format and seen benefits of this, making this a great time to include more people from places across the state. Finally, we had impending Board elections (held early 2021) that could create leadership opportunities for new members across the state.

 What processes informed this move? This shift came only after dedicated thoughts and direct input from varied stakeholders. RTP Evaluators’ Board discussed this possibility in Board meetings across late 2019 and 2020. In summer 2020, RTP Evaluators sent an email to all North Carolina-based AEA members about sharing our thinking and requesting input, including direct communication with those who requested this. In fall 2020, we polled our current RTP Evaluators members to gather their perspective. Our outreach showed favor to state-wide affiliation across stakeholders, with any challenges not understood as true roadblocks but rather as areas for particular attention.

Lessons Learned:

This experience reflected the value of being willing to try something new – but to do so with clear intentionality and thoughtful process. At first, the idea of a state-wide lens felt daunting and challenging given current processes; our programming had always been in-person, and this did not seem feasible in a relatively large state. With COVID, however, we saw the broader reach of our now-virtual meetings as well as the contextual need for, and value of, added connection and networks. This put expansion at the forefront of our minds and pushed us to give this true thought. To consider this appropriately, we prioritized inclusive processes that incorporated perspective from current membership and from potential members, as two key stakeholder groups. We would move forward only if the fit was appropriate for both.

In addition, this expansion allowed us to acknowledge and reflect on other ways we were already crossing geographic boundaries. For instance, we had always opened out annual Professional Development events to those across the state, and we had opened our 2020 annual Professional Development event (“Deliberately Enacting Culturally Responsive and Equitable Evaluation: A Guide to Practical Tools and Processes,” led by Dr. Mindelyn Anderson) to those outside the state. In addition, in 2020, we initiated a member meeting facilitation exchange with the St. Louis regional affiliate EASL, and we opened regular quarterly member meetings to a broader array of participants. 

We look forward to growing this trajectory in coming years!

The American Evaluation Association is hosting North Carolina (NC) Evaluators Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from NC Affiliate 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@eval.org. 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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