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Oregon Evaluators Week: Pivoting Professional Development: An Online Journal Club for Building Skills and Staying Connected by Adrienne Zell

I’m Adrienne Zell, a long-time AEA member and evaluator. My home base is an academic institution, Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), where I wear many hats. One of my roles is Director of the OHSU Evaluation Core. In this role, I lead a small team of evaluators who work on health-related evaluation projects. I like to think we are a pretty close team, but whether you use the phrase Work from Home (or WFH, now known as just “work”) or Télétravail (some things just sound better in French), we are all functioning a bit differently these days.

Professional development is very important to our organization. We try to fund participation in local and national conferences, we encourage attendance at University-sponsored lectures and data clubs, and we have team meetings (with snacks) where we teach each other skills that we have learned through these educational forums or from our project work. With conferences canceled or moved online, without on-campus events, and with a ban on in-person meetings (no team snacks!), we have struggled to find ways to prioritize professional development to the same degree.

Cool Trick: One thing we have tried is an online journal club. We launched our journal club in March of 2020 using two tools: Slack and Trello. Slack is an online communications platform which is free and flexible. Our team uses it for individual, team, and project-based messaging. We created a Slack group (called a “channel”) for our journal club where team members take turns posting articles for the group to read. To facilitate discussion, the person selecting the article also poses a set of questions. Responses and comments are then posted on a Trello board. Trello is a free collaboration tool that allows you to organize information in a variety of ways. We then regularly discuss the articles in our team meetings.

Lesson learned: Our team has selected articles that are methodologically relevant rather than those that reflect content related to specific projects. Some example topics include: Qualitative Comparative Analysis, Natural Language Processing, Most Significant Change, and Evaluation Reporting. Not only have I enjoyed reading about these topics, I have already embedded them in grant applications and evaluation plans. We are all looking forward to the day when we can have our team snacks again, but for now we are continuing to learn together. 

Hot Tips:

Here are some of our tips for team-based online journal clubs:

1. Allow people flexibility to choose topics they are excited about. Their excitement will result in greater learning for the entire team.

2. Choose articles that are publicly accessible, even if you have subscriptions to publication repositories. This removes barriers to access and allows for increased sharing outside of your team.

3. Use collaboration platforms that you are already comfortable with. Many of us have adopted new technology for working from home, and have become burned out on the idea of adding additional platforms.

This week, AEA365 is featuring posts from evaluators in Oregon. Since Evaluation 2020 was moved from Portland, OR to online, a generous group of Oregon evaluators got together to offer content on a variety of topics relevant to evaluators. 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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