Reality TV Lessons Week: What the Great British Baking Show Can Teach Us About Evaluation by Corey Newhouse

Hi, I’m Corey Newhouse, the Founder and Principal of Public Profit. We help mission driven organizations learn from data, make better decisions, and improve the quality and effectiveness of their work. 

My go-to reality show is the Great British Baking Show (or Great British Bake Off for those in the UK). For those who aren’t yet familiar, in this show, amateur bakers compete in a series of themed challenges, like Bread Week, Pastry Week… you get the idea. There are at least three lessons we can learn from this show:

Don’t Be A Jerk

In the show, the contestants are very supportive of each other, complementing each other’s work and occasionally helping a pressed-for-time colleague to ice one last sticky bun. 

As an evaluator, my work is vastly better when I collaborate with others, whether through leveraging complementary skills, asking for honest feedback, or even referring a prospective client to a colleague. This approach makes me a better evaluation consultant, encourages reciprocal referrals from colleagues, and aligns with my lifelong goal to not be a jerk.

Apply Confident Creativity

One of the weekly challenges is called the Technical, in which the judges give very basic guidelines to the bakers, along with a set of ingredients. The bakers then must rely on their prior knowledge to bake something that they may never have heard of before. 

Some evaluation engagements feel like a never-ending Technical challenge, requiring constant reassessment of the overall purpose, methods, or anticipated use. This is especially true for developmental evaluations. These emergent evaluations call for evaluators to call on their prior experience, to seek insight from new sources, and to be open to learning in the open. Finding the balance between trusting your training and re-calibrating to new conditions is key.

Give Good Feedback

The judges on the show provide specific, constructive feedback to bakers, noting what is working well about the bake, and what could be better. I appreciate that they almost always explain why something went wrong.

This is at the heart of good evaluation, too. First, we need to craft our studies in ways that will yield actionable data, such as looking at implementation quality or the strength of the underlying theory guiding the initiative. Second, we need to do our best to make clear recommendations informed by our findings. Simply presenting data is rarely sufficient to lead to action.

Hot Tip: 

Enroll in newsletters and blogs in fields laterally related to yours, such as design, facilitation, or organizational change.

Hot Tip: 

Build relationships with colleagues in multiple fields, including evaluation, fundraising, communications, and program. They can be a valuable source of advice, and even referrals!

This week, AEA365 is hosting Reality TV Lessons Week where contributing authors share lessons learned from their guilty pleasure favorite TV shows. 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

3 thoughts on “Reality TV Lessons Week: What the Great British Baking Show Can Teach Us About Evaluation by Corey Newhouse”

  1. Hello! I’ve currently been obsessed with The Great British Baking Show! I completely love how everything is handled in the show! I believe that they handle everything in such a respectful and nice way. The fact that they work together, and help each other when one is running low on time is something that you do not see on competition shows very often, I wonder if this is due to cultural differences. I enjoyed the fact that you compared everything that they do to program evaluation, it makes it easier to understand since it is being compared to something that I have watched multiple times.

  2. Hello, Corey! Ive never watched the show but I like your thoughts and they are very clear and easy to read. Im currently in a program evaluation fundamentals class and it seems how you approach your work is the exact definition of how an evaluator should be. I agree with “don’t be a jerk” I don’t know why people think that being rude to others will get them anywhere in life let alone better a program or situation going on. Like the old saying goes, treat others how you want to be treated. Feedback is normally what I do, a few weeks ago I was out to eat with my mom and the restaurant had a wait which was fine. We talked to the host and poor girl, it was her first day and a cook, a waitress, and a host didn’t show up so that made everything even more backed up. The line was getting impatient and getting rude with her, and she was working her butt off trying to handle everything. Well, a couple of older women came to her at the hottest counter (mind you we were there before them) and they started getting rude with her, and eventually started to yell and even got behind the counter. They finally left, a manager who was called in came in and took over the hottest stand and another cook came in. As soon as it died down and everyone was done complaining to the manager I went and told her how all those people were awful to her staff and she did not deserve those mean things and she did the best she could. The feedback made her so happy and made her realize her evaluation based off of the others could be wrong.

  3. I’ve really been enjoying this week’s content, thanks folx. I love analogies that relate eval to daily life and popular culture.

    While I’m not a big watcher of reality shows, I am a wee bit addicted to House Hunters International, which in my mind has its own evaluation message. Permit me to share.

    Each of the three houses or apartments that people have to pick from is different in some way. Sure, they all have a kitchen, bathroom, living room, etc., but then there’s also something else that makes them unique and forces the family to choose. It’s the same with evaluation, each one has core elements that don’t change, e.g. there’s some kind of data collection, there’s some type of report, but the context is different for each one. And it’s this context that drives how that particular evaluation will be designed.

    If someone asked me to choose one word to describe good evaluation it would be “context”.

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