AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators



OPEN Week: Adrienne Zell on Evaluation for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It

My name is Adrienne Zell and I work as an internal evaluator for the Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute, an organization that provides services to biomedical researchers at Oregon Health and Science University. I also volunteer as the executive director of a small nonprofit, Impactivism, which provides evaluation advice to community organizations. I have been a member of OPEN for over 10 years, and involved with the events committee for the past three years.

Many years ago, I was lent a collection of essays entitled, Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It. Geoff Dyer’s essays are first-rate — humorous, amorous, and reflective – but it is his brilliant title that has stuck with me. Although OPEN members and volunteers have diverse roles within the field of evaluation, a common theme in our events and conversations has been the effort involved in convincing organizational leadership, staff, and stakeholders that evaluation is worth doing and that they should have a direct role.

This past year, one of our members, Chari Smith, successfully organized an OPEN event and a conference workshop designed to planfully connect evaluators and nonprofit staff and engage them in thinking about reasons why organizations may not “do” evaluation. As evaluators, we rarely can remove all identified barriers. But we can work to understand their complexity and re-focus on opportunities. Participation in OPEN, along with my experience as both an external and an internal evaluator, has inspired a list of tips on addressing evaluation gridlock in organizations and just “doing” it.

Hot Tip #1: Highlight current capacity. Most organizations are already practicing evaluation; they just aren’t using the term. They may collect data on clients, distribute feedback forms, maintain resource guides, or engage in other evaluation-related activities. Identifying and leveraging current accomplishments inspires confidence and makes evaluation seem less forbidding.

Hot Tip #2: Appeal to accountability. Program leaders, by definition, should be held accountable for program impact. The most recent issue of New Directions for Evaluation compares and contrasts the fields of performance management and evaluation. Program managers should regularly request and utilize both kinds of information when making decisions. Elements of these comparisons can be shared with program leadership, increasing understanding about the differences, commonalities, and benefits.

Hot Tip #3: Show them the money. Provide examples of how rigorous impact evaluation can result in stronger grant applications and increased funding. A recent EvalTalk post solicited such an example, and members were responsive. In addition, return on investment (ROI) and other cost analyses (see tomorrow’s post by OPEN member Kelly Smith) can demonstrate savings, inform resource allocation, and target areas for future investment.  A single ROI figure can “go viral” and motivate further evaluation work.

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The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Oregon Program Evaluators Network (OPEN) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from OPEN 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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