Internal Eval Week: Pamela Bishop on Working as a New Internal Evaluator

My name is Pamela Bishop, and I am the internal evaluator for the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis at the University o f Tennessee. In my few short years working as a professional evaluator, I have always held positions in which I was external to the organization being evaluated. When I accepted my first internal evaluation position in February 2009, I quickly learned I would need to not only redefine my ideas of the way the evaluation process works, but also my ideas of what an evaluator actually does.

Lesson learned: Being internal to an organization means doing a lot more than just evaluation. In my role as external evaluator, it was easy to define my role to clients: I do evaluations. Being internal to a program, however, my role has evolved to include program design consulting, data and information management, and systematic planning (and the occasional program participant lunch pick-up with the Event Coordinator!). Being objective does not mean you can’t be a team player, and being on staff of a busy organization means doing your part to ensure the organization runs smoothly.

Lesson learned: It helps to be proactive in explaining your role in the organization to colleagues. When beginning a position as an internal evaluator, there will likely be many misconceptions among your coworkers about what you are there to do. This can be especially challenging at an organization that has not previously had an evaluator, and thus has an indistinct idea of what an internal evaluator does. In the beginning, I took any opportunity available to explain that I was not there to uncover flaws in my colleagues’ work, but to provide constructive feedback to ensure that our program (and our funding!) would continue to progress in a positive direction.

Hot tip: Because many organization activities are ongoing, there is often no distinct end to an internal evaluation project. Early on, decide with your stakeholders on a meaningful and feasible reporting framework and data management system that will get relevant and timely information into the hands of those who need it.

Rad resource: AEA’s new Internal Evaluation TIG. Although still in its infancy by TIG standards, being a member will give you the opportunity connect with other internal evaluators and possibly share resources and expertise relevant to your work.

Want to learn more about Pamela’s work? Join over 2500 colleagues at the AEA Annual Conference this November in San Antonio and check out her session in the conference program.

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