R Week: How We Moved Our Entire Team to R by Ava Elliott

Hi, I’m Ava Elliott, Senior Research Assistant at Public Profit, an evaluation and strategy consulting firm located in Oakland, California.

Last year, we decided to hang up our SPSS hat and take the leap to R. It was not an easy decision to make. Being consultants, we need to be able to work quickly and efficiently in highly interdependent teams, something that we did well using SPSS. We had years of shared syntax, systems, and norms built around this data analysis software that allowed us to meet constant deadlines in a busy evaluation consulting business. 

In order to ensure success in our transition to R, we brought in outside consultants to formalize the process, determined strategies to bring our team up to speed across roles, and outlined internal accountability. Four things really helped us move forward quickly and we would recommend to anyone taking the leap to R:

Hot Tip #1: Form a Pilot Team

We identified a Pilot Team to take the lead in learning R. This team consisted of four folks across roles who had experience working with data in SPSS. We hired outside help to provide direct training to the Pilot Team and get us up to speed quickly. The Pilot Team helped us have in house ‘experts’ and identify how R would fit into our collaborative work setting when it came time, a few months later, to train the whole team.

Hot Tip #2: Create Norms and Best Practices

It was challenging to avoid the temptation of using our SPSS norms and best practices for R. In practice, the ways we worked in SPSS did not always translate over to R (for example, R does not allow for value labels, which we’d relied on heavily in SPSS). The Pilot Team helped us outline some internal norms and best practices to start; the rest of the team continues to identify and add to this list.

Hot Tip #3: Ensure Accountability and Practice

In order to ensure all staff had first-hand experience writing and running code we identified a real dataset for each person, across all roles, to clean and analyze in R for a real external deadline. The Pilot Team held “office hours’ to help staff as they cleaned and analyzed their data.

Hot Tip #4: Host R Parties!

In order to encourage continued learning and collaboration, we hold R Parties. At these we share cool code, quick tips, or ideas for how to improve our processes. Everyone learns something new, is given the opportunity to share, and leaves with new ideas for how to improve our work using R. 

Through these strategies, over the course of a year we were able to shift our team’s mentality from “Can we do that in R?” to “We can do that in R! (and I’ll figure out how.)”

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating R Week with our R-forward colleagues who have contributed all of this week’s aea365 posts. 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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