OL-ECB Week: Jesse Burns on Being an Independent Consultant

Greetings!   My name is Jesse Burns, and I am part of the OL-ECB TIG leadership.  Outside of AEA, I am an independent consultant that works with a variety of organizations to design, implement and evaluate new products and services.

As an independent consultant, I have learned that managing the uncertainty with innovation projects is critical for gaining internal support.  While I received training with developing rigorous formative and summative evaluations, I’ve noticed that trying to inject these methods into uncertain innovation projects can lead to push back from the client.

In working on projects where clients were not interested in applying traditional evaluation methods to a project, I learned that clients often wanted to first understand the implications of a new innovation and then understand how they could evaluate the impacts of the innovation.  With this recognition in mind, I started applying insights from work by Amy Edmondson about the different processes that individuals and teams face with learning:

Hot Tips:

Addressing the different types of learning challenges can help different stakeholders to understand and engage in a project that requires them to learn.

Team Challenge Activities:  Rather than talking about learning, engaging individuals, teams and units in a puzzle or game can help illustrate how these different challenges manifest in individuals and teams. Using a game or puzzle to highlight and discuss these challenges can help surface the tensions between individual and organizational learning.

Problem Framing Activities: As a consultant, part of my work involves framing the problem that a client has to help them see their options a little more clearly. On innovation projects, engaging clients in framing their problem via Force-Field Analysis, SWOT analysis, or other visually-based activities can not only help frame the problem, but also uncover the learning challenges that individuals and teams will face in addressing the problem.

Rad Resources:

Written by Preskill and Beer, this a great report on how to use developmental evaluation methods to evaluate social innovation projects. They provide a great overview of the limitations of using traditional evaluative methods to evaluate innovation projects as well as outline how developmental evaluation might be the right approach in these instances.

Written by Garvin, Edmondson and Gino, this classic 2008 HBR article teases apart the challenges of learning in organizations, as well as provides a great tool for assessing whether your organization (or the organization you are consulting with) is a learning organization.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Organizational Learning & Evaluation Capacity Building (OL-ECB) TIG Week with our colleagues in the OL-ECB AEA Topical Interest Group. 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.


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