SEA PD Week: Putting the Pieces Together: Effective Stakeholder Communication by Nancy Bridier

Greetings, AEA365 Readers! I am Dr. Nancy Bridier, Senior Doctoral Adjunct at Grand Canyon University, Public Sector Representative, and Board Member for the Southeast Evaluation Association (SEA). I am also an Independent Consultant based in the Florida panhandle. Communication with our clients is part of our practice, but are we communicating effectively? I would like to share tips for effective stakeholder communication.

Rad Resource: Stakeholders are not just those who contract our services, but may also include those affected by the program. This may depend on their relationship to and interest in the program. Explore the University of Kansas Community Toolbox checklist for identifying stakeholders.

Hot Tips:

  • What to communicate and why: Effective communication is not just about the technology we use, but its purpose. I have emailed written reports and presented PowerPoint slides to communicate findings. While these are commonly used tools, they are not always effective for every stakeholder. Understand the type of information stakeholders want and how they prefer to receive it. It may be text, numbers, graphics (charts, tables), visual, or combination. If your stakeholders are in a different area, a web conferencing tool, such as Zoom or WebEx, is a great interactive way to communicate with stakeholders. They also allow stakeholders to ask questions and receive immediate answers. These tools allow you the opportunity to observe stakeholder reactions.
  • When to communicate: Effective communication begins with the initial meeting. Establish a clear outline of the stakeholders’ purpose, questions, timelines, and communication processes. Communicate throughout the project to ensure nothing has changed. Engage stakeholders in decision-making. Inform the stakeholders of progress. Better Evaluation.org offers some great tips, tools, and methods of communicating findings to stakeholders after the evaluation is completed.
  • Considerations: Some evaluators invite stakeholders to review a draft report as part of their communicating and reporting strategy. Before engaging in this practice, consider the costs and ethical implications of accepting a stakeholder’s revisions to a draft evaluation report.
  • Communicating findings: Share the procedures and lessons learned. Know your stakeholders to convey information effectively. Define terminology. Avoid using jargon. Demonstrate results and accountability. Focus on success and improvement. Outline changes to the program to improve outcomes.

Lessons Learned:

On my first program evaluation, I failed to establish communication guidelines to the primary stakeholder. During an eight-week parent education program, the stakeholder changed the assessment instrument based on responses on the pretest. Needless to say, we had to complete more than one cycle of the program to establish a baseline for comparison. Let your stakeholders know communication is a collaborative process. Inform them about the type of information that you need, and the steps of the evaluation process.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Southeast Evaluation Association (SEA) Affiliate Professional Development Week with our colleagues in the SEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from SEA Affiliate 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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “SEA PD Week: Putting the Pieces Together: Effective Stakeholder Communication by Nancy Bridier”

  1. Hi Nancy,

    This was a very insightful read into the finer details of program evaluation. I’m still learning quite a bit about the process of program evaluation, but it was great reading beyond the technical and data side of evaluating.

    Currently, my practical experience with evaluation is limited to a stakeholder role in an evaluation. During this evaluation, I felt the communication was a bit over my head, but it was challenging being one of the few stakeholders in the room without experience with an evaluation. It’s hard to know whether to tailor the communication for the “lowest common denominator” like myself at the time, or trust in delivering an evaluation for the majority.

    I can tell by your emphasis on observing stakeholder reactions that you value unspoken communication as much as direct conversation. An evaluator’s “soft skills” seem to be just as important as understanding the technical side of an evaluation. At the start of an evaluation, I wonder if you, yourself, discuss stakeholders’ preference for communication preferences/needs? Or do you simply use your intuition to determine what will be suitable? It seems that there’s precious little time in an evaluation, so it’s hard to know what to prioritize in discussions.

    I think your disclaimer about communicating early findings and accepting stakeholder revisions is quite important. It’s integral that stakeholder biases do not affect the outcomes of an evaluation. Have you ever encountered a situation where you did not see eye-to-eye with a stakeholder’s suggestions? How can evaluator successfully navigate this sort of situation while retaining a healthy rapport?

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