SCEA Week: Bonnie Richards on Valuing in the Social Services

My name is Bonnie Richards, and I am a Research Associate with Vital Research, an evaluation and consulting company located in Los Angeles, California. The Social Services sector is among the industries we serve when designing and implementing evaluation projects.

Lessons Learned: So, what frames a Social Services evaluation project? Consider how values and valuing impact the following.


  • Many different stakeholders may be involved at some point, as either sources of data or as informants for conducting the project itself.
    • The agency or service provider itself interested in an evaluation.
    • The funders or foundations are now interested in the impact of their funding.
    • Program staff, service recipients and their families, community members, policy makers and others may be involved.
  • The purpose and value of conducting an evaluation may not be clear. Be prepared to explain your work to different audiences.


  • It may not come as a surprise that budget is hugely influential.
    • Internally, budget conservatively and realistically (or you may find yourself volunteering some pro bono services). What are the critical components that must be included in the project?
    • External Budgets(e.g. state or federal) and their fluctuations (e.g. cuts or increases) can have a huge influence on your work.
  • Social Service organizations might be under a severe amount of stress during times of funding crisis. This can strain communication, involvement, and cooperation.


  • Do your funders value and understand data? Why are they collecting it? Are they a learning organization that is self-motivated to understand impact, or are they simply meeting a requirement from higher up?
  • Are agencies tracking data? They might need help developing a system for tracking information of interest. Consider what kinds of data you may be able to obtain:
    • Indicators? (e.g. attendance or other numbers)
    • Outcomes? (i.e. an observable difference in attitude or behavior)
  • Consider how findings will be used. What are the potential implications of making a judgment about the overall merit or worth of a program?

Lesson Learned: There are several adjectives the evaluator should endeavor to embody, particularly in the context of a Social Services evaluation project: Conscientious, Intentional, Open-minded, Flexible.

Hot Tip: If you work with stakeholders who are unfamiliar with research and might have difficulty interpreting data, consider the ways you can relay findings in meaningful ways. Consider attending a workshop or session on new and creative visual displays that can be used in presentations and reports for clients.


Rad Resource: Orient yourself to any major evaluation theorists before attending a session with them. Evaluation Roots: Tracing Theorists’ Views and Influences, edited by Marv Alkin, is a great resource for understanding different theoretical approaches, including Valuing, this year’s conference theme.


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating this week with our colleagues at the Southern California Evaluation Association (SCEA), an AEA affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from SCEA 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.

2 thoughts on “SCEA Week: Bonnie Richards on Valuing in the Social Services”

  1. Kenkinika Hayden

    Hello Ms. Richards,
    Thank you for posting this information! I am an undergraduate student with Texas A&M University-Central and found that your position on how stakeholders value program/project are very important. Just a friendly reminder to those interested in program evaluations- evaporators should be creative in terminology delivery used for summative purposes. Knowing how to relay information to stakeholders who are not necessarily well versed about the data opens up dialogue and contributes towards active participation from both parties.

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