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Sherry Boyce on Using Photos in Evaluation Reports

My name is Sherry Boyce, Extension Educator in Program Evaluation with the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development.  I have worked for Extension for 30 years, in a variety of youth development roles. I have also done extensive photography as a volunteer with several youth programs.  I’d like to share some thoughts about using photos in evaluation reports.

With much of the year still ahead, it is an excellent time to make a plan to take photos that can be used in your end-of-year reports.  Photos can add a lot to your PowerPoint or written evaluation report, but remember that good data and good presentation of data is critical.

Richard Krueger’s chapter on “Story-Telling for Evaluation” has important points about the use of stories in evaluation reports.  He states that, “Stories can help evaluators get their audience’s attention, communicate emotions, illustrate key points or themes, and make findings more memorable”.  To some extent, good photos can tell a story and add value to your reports.

Hot Tip-Consider how photos can make the findings more memorable: The photos that are needed for enhancing evaluation reports are different than the ones you want for promoting programs or the photos you use for recognition of youth and adults involved in programs.  In evaluation reports, you can use photos to help the lessons from the data “stick” much the same way that stories are used.  Photos can be used to illustrate the data or provide insights into the experience.  Photos that show emotion are particularly powerful.

Hot Tip-Develop a “shoot sheet” or checklist for all the types of photos you want:  Here are a few questions to help you think about the types of photos you need for evaluation reports:

  • What are the evaluation questions for the program you are photographing?
  • How will the photo help tell your evaluation story?
  • Is the photo representative of the experiences of many participants in the program?
  • Does the photo illustrate a participant’s engagement with the learning?
  • Is mastery illustrated?
  • Does the photo tell the story about the program (rather than focusing on an individual’s accomplishments)?

Hot Tip-Truth is essential: Krueger points out the importance of truth in stories.  It is the same for photos, especially in evaluation.  Well planned learning experiences don’t require setting up photos.  Planning for taking photos of real experiences is what you are striving for. 

Rad Resource: Krueger, Richard A. (2010). Using Stories in Evaluation.  In Wholey, J., Hatry, K., & Newcomer, K. (Eds.) Handbook of Practical Program Evaluation 3rd Edition. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

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