SEA Professional Development Week: Tips for Engaging Stakeholders in Participatory Evaluation by Dr. Moya Alfonso

My name is Dr. Moya Alfonso, MSPH, and I’m an Associate Professor at the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University, and I am University Sector Representative and Board Member for the Southeast Evaluation Association (SEA). I would like to offer you a few tips on engaging stakeholders in participatory evaluation based on my 16 years of experience engaging stakeholders in community health research and evaluation.

Participatory evaluation is an approach that engages stakeholders in each step of the process.  Rather than the trained evaluator solely directing the evaluation, participatory evaluation requires a collaborative approach.  Evaluators work alongside stakeholders in developing research questions, deciding upon an evaluation design, designing instruments, selecting methods, gathering and analyzing data, and disseminating results.  Participatory evaluation results in stronger evaluation designs and greater external validity because community members have a high level of input in entire process.  It also strengthens buy-in to the results and a greater use of the evaluation products.

Rad Resource: Explore the University of Kansas Community Tool Box for introductory information on participatory evaluation.

Hot Tips: Here are a few tips for engaging stakeholders:

  • Establish a diverse stakeholder advisory group: Community stakeholders have a range of skills that can contribute to the evaluation process. For example, I worked with 8th grade youth on a participatory research project and assumed that I would need to conduct the statistical analysis of survey data.  To my surprise, one of the youths had considerable expertise and was able to conduct the analysis with little assistance. With training and support, community stakeholders can contribute and exceed your expectations.
  • Keep stakeholders busy: A common problem in working with advisory groups is attrition. Keep community stakeholders engaged with evaluation tasks that use their unique skill sets. Matching assignments to existing skill sets empower community stakeholders and result in increased buy-in and engagement.
  • Celebrate successes: Celebrating successes over the course of the evaluation is a proven strategy for keeping stakeholders engaged. Rather than waiting until the end of the evaluation, reward stakeholders regularly for the completion of evaluation steps.
  • Keep your ego in check: Some highly trained evaluators might find handing over the reins to community stakeholders challenging because they’re used to running the show. Participatory evaluation requires evaluators to share control and collaborate with community stakeholders. Try to keep an open mind and trust in the abilities of community stakeholders to participate in the evaluation process with your support and guidance.  You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve when stakeholders are fully engaged in evaluation research! 

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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “SEA Professional Development Week: Tips for Engaging Stakeholders in Participatory Evaluation by Dr. Moya Alfonso”

  1. Hello

    I am a Master of Education student and I am currently taking a course on program evaluation as part of my course requirements. As a teacher of 15 years, I am familiar with evaluation as I am always practicing assessing and evaluating my student’s learning. The practices of program evaluation in the public sector are new to me and although the learning curve is steep, there are many similarities in how social programs are evaluated and in how teachers practice assessment in the classroom. Your article was a nice reminder of that.

    Although as a classroom teacher I do not create advisory groups, I do teach students to self and peer assess. I have learned that through their assessments, students are able to provide insightful and highly reflective responses and frequently exceed my expectations. These responses are often more effective in enhancing learning than my teacher responses/feedback.

    Yes, letting go of control is difficult! I remember when I first started teaching, I felt so much pressure to have my students be successful and I believed it was solely my responsibility. I eventually learned this is not effective and I learned that my students have a lot to offer. I switched my thinking from I am responsible for teaching students information to I am on a learning journey together with my students. Once I did this, I found my job more relaxing and enjoyable. I was able to better understand and connect with my students and as a result of us learning together, their learning became more authentic and meaningful.

    Celebrations are key to building self-efficacy in any form of learning. So, yes, why wouldn’t we celebrate successes during program evaluation! The theory behind program evaluation feels so formal and therefore it can be forgotten that celebrations can and should occur during participatory evaluations. These celebrations are just as important as the process.

    Thank you for your article for it reminded me that when I am feeling overwhelmed learning the approaches and practices of program evaluation, really, I already have a lot of the skill sets and thought frames.

  2. Matthew Marini

    Dr. Alfonso,

    Thank you for the above post regarding stakeholders in participatory evaluation. I am new to program evaluation professionally and am currently engaged in my first course in program evaluation as a part of a masters of education I am pursuing at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada.

    The topic of your post, stakeholder participation in evaluation, has been somewhat of a hot topic in our class as of late. I found the tips you provided for engaging stakeholders to be quite helpful, particularly where you highlighted the need to keep stakeholders busy to ensure continued engagement. Attrition at the advisory group level is certainly a challenge I have faced both in my limited experience with program evaluation but also across a number of other arenas in which I work. It can certainly be a challenge to maintain a pace that keeps all parties engaged, especially where the participants are largely practitioners who are volunteering their time to the project and each have their own demanding schedules that must be accommodated.

    I am curious, given your experience, what advice you might have when it comes to balancing the needs of various stakeholders who may have competing interests. Further, how can stakeholder bias, or worse, improper motives be managed? It is clear to me at this point that program evaluation does not occur in a vacuum, and while the benefits you have outlined in your post of stakeholder involvement: stronger program design, greater external validity and increased buy-in, are certainly worth any difficulties that may arise, the challenges (amongst many others I’m sure) I mentioned are still an aspect I wonder about.

    Matthew

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