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