Hi! I’m Courtney Bolinson, evaluation consultant and founder of Head and Heart Evaluation. During the AEA conference in New Orleans this past November, I helped evaluators gain an understanding of the corporate context and where it overlaps with evaluation via a teaching case. The teaching case described a fictional consultancy where evaluator Eva Lee is asked to assist a well-known apparel company with their efforts to meaningfully bring gender equity to their supply chain.
You can access the teaching case here, and are free to use it for educational purposes.
During the conference session, we broke into three groups to review the teaching case, and then came together to discuss overarching themes of evaluation in a corporate context. There were several themes that came out of the discussions that can help evaluators work in the corporate context more effectively.
THEME 1: There are cultural differences between evaluators and corporations that should be acknowledged and navigated.
- Corporate actors tend to come from business and economics backgrounds, whereas evaluators tend to come from social science backgrounds. This leads to different perspectives and even different languages that need to be learned and bridged, as well as different values and expectations.
- Corporations are used to working with professional services firms like McKinsey and Deloitte who often deliver exactly what clients ask, without much questioning or pushback. Evaluators, on the other hand, are more used to applying evaluative thinking, asking evaluative questions, and clarifying purpose/use before diving into deliverables.
- Corporations have a historic audit culture. Corporate evaluation participants may not understand the difference between audits (often used as “sticks” and for negative decision-making) and evaluations (intended for learning and improvement), making it difficult to get good engagement and quality data.
- Corporations operate in a different context than traditional evaluation spaces (e.g., government or non-profit) are used to operating. Corporations are more sensitive to financial incentives and the general economic climate. Recessions hit differently and, as a result, evaluations can be deprioritized more easily.
THEME 2: For evaluative work to be fruitful, capacity building is needed on both sides.
- Evaluators need to have empathy for the corporate context and seek to understand corporate pain points and limitations in order to work as effective partners.
- Evaluators need to take the time to understand the ecological context of the companies they work with, including their supply chains. They are all different!
- Evaluators should build the capacity of their corporate partners as well, to educate them on what evaluation is, what it takes to do good evaluation work (especially culturally responsive evaluation in a gender equity context), and how evaluation results can and should be used differently than other types of data. For example, the Program Evaluation Standards are a useful tool to advocate for evaluation integrity.
THEME 3: Evaluators need to be creative and flexible when working with corporations, while ultimately maintaining evaluative integrity.
- Evaluators may need to play the long game – starting with a version of an evaluation that isn’t perfect and using the results and experience of the first version to move toward something more robust, participatory, and culturally responsive.
More and more, evaluators are being invited to the corporate table. Let’s use this opportunity to learn, educate, and collaborate to help corporate partners achieve tangible, meaningful, relevant impact on their supply chains and beyond.
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