OL-ECB TIG Week: The Importance of Evaluation Champions in Evaluation Capacity Building by Joy Kubarek and Brian Johnson

Greetings! We’re Joy Kubarek and Brian Johnson, Co-founders of Inform Evaluation & Research. Much of our work focuses on building evaluation capacity within informal science and conservation organizations. In recent years, we’ve seen increasing demand for evaluation capacity building (ECB), but organizations don’t always know when they are ready for an ECB initiative or the level of investment (not just monetary!) required. To begin and sustain ECB, we focus on cultivating evaluation champions.

What is an evaluation champion? An evaluation champion is anyone within an organization who understands how an organization benefits from increasing evaluation capacity and who works to build an evaluation culture. While an evaluation champion may already have evaluation knowledge and skills, this isn’t a requirement! No matter their skill level, evaluation champions should be ready to learn and be a vocal cheerleader promoting this work.

What does an evaluation champion do? Evaluation champions have three main roles.

  1. Evaluation champions work to gain buy-in across the organization. This includes organizational leadership as well as mid-level and front-line staff who will ultimately have responsibility for integrating and executing evaluation processes.
  2. Evaluation champions play a crucial role in sustaining an ECB effort. At some point in the process, every ECB effort will have setbacks and moments of waning support. Evaluation champions help bring organizational attention back to the ECB effort when the timing is right.
  3. Evaluation champions serve as organizers and primary points of contact so that everything runs smoothly. This is especially important when an ECB effort is facilitated by an external firm.

Who are some inspiring real-world evaluation champions? While we draw inspiration and learn from every evaluation champion we work with, here are two particularly inspiring stories from our clients.

  • Championing evaluation at the Houston Zoo: Melanie Sorensen, Senior Director of Education at the Houston Zoo, has been a tireless champion for evaluation since she first launched an ECB initiative at the Zoo in 2016. What started as an effort to build evaluation capacity within her department has led to prioritization of evaluation across the organization. One of the keys to Melanie’s success has been constant communication up, down, and across the organization. As a result of ECB efforts, the education team is now able to carry out their own evaluations, and evaluation findings are used by a range of departments from fundraising to marketing to animal care.
  • Championing evaluation in rural Washington: Melissa Williams, Executive Director at Feiro Marine Life Center in Port Angeles, WA, wanted to build evaluation capacity within her small (four employees!) organization, but also recognized that her own organization’s evaluation efforts would be more successful if capacity was strengthened across organizations in her rural community. With IMLS funding, we provided training, coaching, and skill-building to a learning community of six organizations. What started as an effort with just one evaluation champion at one organization ended with more than half a dozen evaluation champions throughout the community.
Group evaluation capacity building session
Group evaluation capacity building session

Hot Tips

Identify evaluation champions (you can have more than one!) at the beginning of an ECB process. Remember that champions don’t need to be expert evaluators–they only need to be interested in evaluation and motivated to maintain support for the effort.

Set up consistent communication and meetings with your champions. We like to schedule biweekly meetings with champions at the beginning of a process, eventually switching to monthly meetings. 

Rad Resources

The Readiness for Organizational Learning and Evaluation Instrument by Preskill and Torres is a useful tool to assess existing structures, processes, and staff readiness to embark on organizational learning efforts such as ECB.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Organizational Learning and Evaluation Capacity Building (OL-ECB) Topical Interest Group Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our OL-ECB 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@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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