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Sharon Wasco on Evaluation Capacity Building: Saving the Blue Marble One Garden At A Time

My name is Sharon Wasco and I am a community psychologist and an independent consultant. I work with mission-based organizations to generate practice-based evidence to sustain prevention innovation.

To me, the most provocative session at this year’s annual conference in Chicago was Thursday’s plenary on Exemplary Evaluation in the International Year of the Evaluation. I was excited to see what appears to be, in my hope-junky opinion, a “to-do list” that could actually solve every problem in the world (i.e., United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals) — especially since Gender Equality made the top five! I got more inspiration chills when Patton issued his call to Blue Marble Evaluators.

I felt proud then, and today, to be a member of AEA and thereby organizationally affiliated with EvalPartners global movement to strengthen national evaluation capacities.

I am often approached by clients who want training to build organizational evaluation capacity. I ask, “how serious are you about this?”, before launching into an explanation of why professional development approaches only rarely leads to stronger organizational evaluation capacity — and how they only do so in combination with second-order changes in organizations and evaluation use. Weary of thousands of words, I finally created a picture of evaluation capacity and how it connects to better intervention.

Wasco 1

Lesson Learned: These evidence-based depictions of evaluation capacity illustrate both the limitations of individual professional development approaches and the critical role of data utilization.

Wasco 2

Hot Tip: Use drawings, stories, and metaphors to bring your content (yes, even visual content) to life.

Wasco 3 My hand-drawn sketches of the garden help illustrate connections between components of evaluation capacity. I then layer on a personal narrative of failing to get my three kids interested in gardening by growing tomatoes, herbs, potatoes — foods they have absolutely no interest in eating. But my mother-in-law helped them use her garden to grow pumpkins, which apparently possess non-food-related uses that are quite attractive to kids. Jack-o-lanterns! Punkin chunkin! In year two of pumpkin growing, my little entrepreneurs sold their harvest from our front yard for cold, hard cash. On November first, they enjoyed feeding them to four-legged friends at the Spicy Lamb Farm. Because this tip has wandered into the importance of cultural relevancy, let me recap: though a picture may not always substitute for 1,000 words, it can guide your choice of a more effective 1,000 words (stories, when possible!).

Rad Resources: The components and connections in this figure are modeled after a research report published by fellow community psychologists, Tina Taylor Rizler and her colleagues! And the strategies for evaluation capacity building come from ECB whiz, Ellen Taylor Powell.

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 “Sharon Wasco on Evaluation Capacity Building: Saving the Blue Marble One Garden At A Time”

  1. Sharon,

    Interconnected gardens, interconnected frameworks, interconnected evaluation challenges and opportunities…it’s all about the interconnectedness. Nicely done, Sharon. Loely metaphor. Thanks for your contributions to the Blue Marble.


    1. Thanks! You have been a source of inspiration for much of my life as an evaluator, so it means a lot to me that you found something to enjoy in this post — and that you took the time to comment. I am looking forward to more systems/global-level thinking from the Blue Marble Evaluators in 2016! With appreciation for all you do, Sharon

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