Social Work TIG Week: Alice Walters on Appreciating Inquiry: Not everyone does!

I’m Alice Walters, a member of AEA’s Social Work TIG.  I am a doctoral student in human services and work as a non-profit consultant in fund development, marketing, and evaluation.  In my experience, reluctant stakeholders can be a common evaluation challenge.  I present the value of social work insight and appreciative inquiry methods for successfully engaging stakeholders.

Lesson Learned:  I learned stakeholders may not share your evaluation exuberance.  This may come as a shock, but someone has to bear the bad news – not everyone embraces evaluation!  There are many barriers to evaluation and stakeholder reluctance is a common one.  Below are a few tips and lessons to meet this challenge including a focus on Appreciative Inquiry as an evaluation strategy.

Hot Tip:  Begin an evaluation with honest conversations with stakeholders on concerns.  Stakeholders may fear scrutiny, poor evaluation outcomes, time commitments, additional responsibilities, or “needless” intrusions.  You won’t know the barriers until you ask them.  Negative stakeholder attitudes can sabotage the best evaluation plans unless addressed.

Lesson Learned: Understanding stakeholder reluctance and openly addressing concerns is the first step to a positive evaluation experience for all involved.  Social workers are trained to recognize and work with defensive people.  How do we do it?  We listen – a lot. We watch for clues like body language or a failure to speak up.  Then we empathize and focus on helping find positive motivations for participation.  Positive approaches to evaluation exist and Appreciative Inquiry is one example.      

Hot Tip:  Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a particularly appropriate evaluation strategy for engaging reluctant stakeholders in a strengths-based process.  AI focuses evaluation on what is going well.  This strategy may reassure reluctant stakeholders who fear negative outcomes.  AI is also highly participatory, engaging multiple stakeholders.  The steps of AI include a strengths-based 4D method of Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny.  Questions to stakeholders are framed positively, “Remember a time something went particularly well, what was that like?”

Rad Resource:  More information on AI is available at Case Western Reserve University.

Rad Resource:  A great resource is the AEA Public eLibrary.  This is a searchable database for discussion posts, shared files, and blogs.  It is a great resource for finding and connecting to current developments in your evaluation niche.  Many AEA conference presenters upload their contributions in this space.

Rad Resource: Gail Barrington’s  “Using Appreciative Inquiry to Evaluate Learning Circles: Some Early Lessons” is one example culled from the AEA eLibrary.  It provides an example of applying appreciative inquiry for evaluation.

Help your reluctant stakeholders appreciate inquiry using these tips on people skills and creative evaluation strategies.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating SW TIG Week with our colleagues in the Social Work Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our IC TIG 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.

2 thoughts on “Social Work TIG Week: Alice Walters on Appreciating Inquiry: Not everyone does!”

  1. Hi, my name is Andrew, I’m learning more about evaluation and enjoyed reading your article. While I don’t have much experience in the professional field of evaluation, I can appreciate how it may be difficult to engage stakeholders who are reluctant, uninterested, or maybe even averse to undergoing evaluation. I am a strong believer in the importance of communication which would certainly open a dialogue enabling the hesitant party to voice concerns which may be readily addressable and unwarranted, or possibly legitimate and cause for discussion. In either case something has been gained through the conversation. The social work angle you mention is a valuable tool for active listening, and reading body language while responding encouragingly.
    Undoubtedly this helps build a strong rapport that can be further strengthened when combined with approaches such as Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as you described. Overall you have succinctly provided excellent tips for engaging reluctant stakeholders, thank you!

  2. First of all I wanted to mention that your article was of interest to me as I am currently learning about Program Inquiry and Evaluation and the Appreciate Inquiry approach that you discuss is something I am being introduced to for the first time. With regards to dealing with or encouraging stakeholders to share in the evaluation process it is important and I agree that this may be a challenge if they are reluctant. I am interested in how the AI method uses a more positive approach to getting stakeholders involved and working towards program evaluation. In the past few months, while learning in my course, I have been learning about the value and importance of program inquiry and how evaluation helps collect information about the processes and impacts of a program and I look forward to looking into AI a little more hoping that this will help me in any evaluation challenges I may come across, thank you for the resource.

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