SEA Professional Development Week: Dr. Michelle Chandrasekhar on Increasing the Utility of an Evaluation

My name is Dr. Michelle Chandrasekhar and I am an Independent Evaluation Consultant and serve as Board Secretary for the Southeast Evaluation Association (SEA). From my work in higher education and state government, I’ve often walked into situations where trust and transparency issues are present, in particular, when my work is part an organizational change project.

Lesson Learned: Keeping the various audiences informed is critical to the success of your project and increasing the utility of an evaluation.

Hot Tip: Enhance your voice. As a foundation, reference and apply the Program Evaluation Standards and AEA Guiding Principles to the work you do and the support you bring to the project. Yes, bring copies with you to leave! I make a point to refer to best practice or common practice in the field, especially when it comes to the importance of identifying and considering the stakeholder groups for the project. I also make sure I mention setting up timelines for products, which helps to set the stage for my second strategy.

Cool Trick, but it’s not really a trick… My second strategy is to start talking about the timeline of events as soon as possible. We do a bit of that in the first contact, but I recommend that you send an email to your stakeholders right after the first meeting to recap your discussion and highlight any dates you discussed. It is helpful to include a print copy – a draft timeline that includes communication steps for when and how you anticipate keeping the different audiences for the project informed. Now you have something your client can see and share. This also leads to my third strategy.

Cool Trick: Learn from your clients/stakeholders. I am not the expert when it comes to knowing all the particulars of an organization I’ve been recruited to help. Use your draft timeline as part of your communications strategy. My draft timeline provides me with an opening to have that conversation: How do people in the organization stay informed? What are the preferred formats, frequency, and contacts? Who might need to edit/approve messages before distribution? Although we live in the age of emails and websites, surprisingly, sometimes the best way to inform some groups is still through a regularly scheduled meeting with leadership.

Let that seemingly dowdy draft of a table start an early discussion on how you will keep yourself, your client, and the stakeholders informed. Use the standards and guidelines to reinforce why this method for transparency is a good thing in making your evaluation project useful to its stakeholders!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Southeast Evaluation Association (SEA) Affiliate 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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