SCEA Week: Kara Crohn on the AEA Annual Conference Fieldtrip and Using Multiple Methods to Check Your Assumptions

My name is Kara Crohn. I am a Research Manager for EMI ( We are best known for our research and evaluation related to energy efficiency. We also assist clients with strategic planning, policy, program design, and program optimization. EMI is based in Seattle, Washington. I had the good fortune to start our Southern California branch office this year. I am also active in AEA’s Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group (EPE TIG).

Rad Resource: While in Anaheim for the AEA Annual Conference this November, be sure to seize the opportunity to stretch your legs, your minds, and your network on a fieldtrip hosted by The Environmental Program Evaluation TIG on November 4. Space is limited, so please reserve your spot early! Stay tuned for updates on the EPE TIG website: We will visit one of the sites of Inside the Outdoors, an independently-funded environmental education program administered by the Orange County Department of Education. We will discuss how they incorporate their key values into the program design. After the tour, we will brainstorm how evaluation could assist the program. To learn more about Inside the Outdoors:

Lessons Learned: When we think of Southern California, Hollywood images of beauty, wealth, and easy living quickly come to mind. The reality, however, is that within just a mile or two, you can span the entire spectrum of easy to difficult living. In downtown Riverside, for example, the transition from low-income housing to upper middle class homes occurs in a short 6 blocks. This means that, as evaluators, we must be all the more vigilant about challenging the data that’s been collected as well as our own assumptions. I used multiple methods to accomplish these tasks while working on an evaluation of a California statewide low-income energy efficiency program.

One feature of this evaluation was the opportunity to “ride along” on visits to customers’ homes. I used these ride alongs as chances to gain a deeper understanding about the financial challenges that families faced with respect to fixing their oven or running the air conditioner on 100-degree days. The narratives that emerged from these ride alongs also helped shape my understanding of program implementation issues relevant to serving the newly poor (e.g., creating effective marketing and outreach campaigns that respect people’s desire to be self-sufficient, scheduling installations for people with two jobs, etc.).

In that particular evaluation, I also found observations of families’ homes and their stories invaluable reality checks against the assumptions I started to build based on disembodied income estimates and GIS maps of installed efficiency measures.

This story is not unique to Southern California, but it serves as a reminder to challenge our assumptions, to go after the details behind the trends, and to seek a better understanding of the people we study — the people whom we already “know”.

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.

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