I’m Kathryn Lowerre, an internal evaluator for the Environmental Health Epidemiology Bureau (EHEB) at the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH). My background includes work in Health Impact Assessment (HIA) and teaching in the humanities.
Environmental Health Epidemiology looks at the connections between the environment and human health (nmhealth.org/about/erd/eheb). Funding for many EHEB programs comes through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including Asthma, Environmental Public Health Tracking, and Lead Poisoning Prevention. As an internal evaluator I have to engage a predictably super-busy state health department staff, some of whom work primarily with data (epidemiologists, analysts) and some of whom work primarily with people (program coordinators, health educators, healthcare providers). I am also responsible for engaging stakeholders from community and professional groups.
Somewhere along the continuum of initial responses to having a new evaluator on board, ranging from “someone who will solve all our problems” to “someone who can’t possibly solve any of our problems,” is the fruitful middle ground. The combination of quantitative and qualitative skills used in evaluation also apply to connecting with colleagues of very different training, experience, or mindset. From them, learn everything you can about internal and external constraints, and program history.
Lesson Learned: In program and evaluation team meetings (as in teaching), smiles and nods are better than frowns and arms folded across the chest, but they don’t necessarily mean that you’ve succeeded in conveying to your audience the evaluation purpose and information you intended.
Whether it’s a big division-wide meeting or a small project-specific group, it’s good to identify one or more people you can touch base with informally, afterwards. This is your reality check. What did they hear, what did they think, and what (if anything) are they planning to do, or do differently? If there’s a specific evaluation component for which they’ll be responsible, make sure both of you agree on the details.
While developing evaluation capacity is always going to be work-in-progress, I believe it’s an important part of an internal evaluator’s role, to encourage colleagues to think systematically about how we do what we do: how we might not only fulfill the requirements of a particular grant, but use evaluation to improve planning and implementation of future projects to make the greatest possible positive change.
Rad Resources: Several CDC programs, including the Asthma Control Program, have great evaluation resources and staff support for public health evaluation, including capacity development (www.cdc.gov/asthma/program_eval/default.htm).
Another resource, familiar to attendees of Michele Tarsilla’s AEA presentations and workshops, is the Evaluation Capacity Development Group’s web site (www.ecdg.net). If it’s new to you, check it out.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating 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 email@example.com. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.