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Social Work TIG Week: Jade Jackson with Lessons and Insights on Becoming an Evaluator

Hello, I’m Jade Jackson.  I am an Evaluation Specialist at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) in Baltimore, MD.  My organization is a national refugee resettlement agency that provides social services to migrants and refugees.

I want to share with you some lessons learned from my personal transition to evaluator, as well as tips for agencies new to evaluation and evaluative concepts.  I began my career in the programs department of my agency, so I had the background information of working with program managers.  I came into evaluation because of my desire to improve the programming for the clients served by my agency. I currently serve on a two person team for Monitoring and Evaluation at LIRS.

Lessons Learned:

  • Start slow and small – Introducing evaluation into your agency culture can be quite the rollercoaster ride. It’s easier to agree with evaluative concepts like continuous improvement and learning, however there’s less likelihood for buy-in and more resistance when evaluation delves into data collections, definitions of goals and outcomes, and defining indicators.  Therefore, be sure to allow for the learning curve and consensus-building that will be necessary in promoting evaluation in your agency
  • Make it relevant – Evaluation provides opportunities to reflect on program design and how our interventions affected results. Use examples directly related to your agency’s scope of work to engage staff.  Staff will value evaluation components if they see a direct connection to their program’s overall improvement.  For example, after providing a general all staff training on monitoring and evaluation, my team partnered with a staff member from our Visitation program to provide a tailored webinar focusing on monitoring and evaluation, directly pertaining to the Visitation program.
  • Talk about the beginning, not just the end – Educate staff on the importance of engaging in evaluative thinking from onset of program design. By bringing up evaluation at the beginning of a project, you can emphasize a culture that incorporates evaluation at all levels of program implementation.  This creates tremendous insight when evaluating the project’s impact.

Hot Tip: Engage the champions of evaluation.  These are the people in your agency who are excited about evaluation and come to you with questions.  These people do exist.  Encourage these colleagues to discuss their interest in evaluation with other agency leaders, who can use evaluation findings to make key management decisions.

Rad Resource: I have found incredible resources and solutions to problems by accessing my network at AEA.  When you work with a small team, it’s important to look to other for insights and promising practices that can improve your work.  Additionally, reaching out to others provides valuable feedback. Post your questions to the EvalTalk listserv!

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

3 thoughts on “Social Work TIG Week: Jade Jackson with Lessons and Insights on Becoming an Evaluator”

  1. Annalisa Meyer Selmeci

    Dr. Ms. Jackson,
    I am writing because I have a few questions pertaining to evaluation as I am currently taking a course in program inquiry and evaluation at Queen’s University.
    You mentioned starting slow and small. Would this still work for a large organization? I imagine it would also be more difficult since the group of evaluators may be larger. There would have to be a consensus as to what exactly needs to be done.
    Would it be easier and more beneficial to begin the evaluation process with one section of the organization at a time? As each section is completed to move on to the next? Or would this create confusion?
    I was also thinking that most people think of evaluation as an assessment of what they are doing wrong and this seems to shed a negative light on evaluation of any kind. Maybe by explaining that evaluation is something beneficial to improve the organization and is not to analyze individual work. This approach may alleviate some of the stress and concerns that program facilitators may have.
    I like the idea of finding individuals who are excited about evaluation. It would be beneficial to have some people within the organization who could encourage others. Especially if they are leaders in the organization. That way the evaluation information is coming from within the organization and not just from the evaluators themselves.
    I am interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject. Thank-you for your time.
    Annalisa Meyer Selmeci

  2. Hello,

    I would like to first off say that I was very happy to come across and read this post because of all of the great information that it has to offer to beginning evaluators such as myself. I too have been very interested in evaluation since beginning work in the childcare program that I have been working in for five years because I am deeply interested in, and working towards, creating the best program I can provide to the children and families that I service. Prior to taking an evaluation course at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON., I always questioned how I could help increase our programs effectiveness but was unsure how to go about positively (and professionally) making change. After learning about evaluation and reading this post I now have a better understanding. I appreciate the tips that have been offered in this post and will definitely use them! I think that starting slow and steady is definitely a great tip to remember because I think often we are so enthusiastic about seeing the change occur, that we may skip necessary steps that are required. In doing so, this may set ourselves up for failure, which is definitely not what we want to do! I also like the tip of focusing on the beginning and not just the end-as this ties into my previous thought. Sometimes, it is best to focus on the present and what can be changed now instead of looking too far into the future. Since programs are always evolving, I think it is best to take it one day at a time and that way we are staying focused on the programs current needs and we are not getting ahead of ourselves and setting ourselves up for failure.

    I know that I will definitely use these tips in future evaluations and I thank you for providing this post to beginning evaluators like me!


  3. Hi Jade,

    Thanks for your insight. I really appreciate the three lessons: Start slow, make it relevant and talk about the beginning.

    Often when discussing Kaizen (continuous improvement) I find that the idea of improvement is well accepted and everyone seems on board. However, in practical terms the process and the change required for it to take place often gets quite an opposite reaction.

    I think change management is the key here and your lessons relate directly on how to ease the stakeholders in a way that they drive the change instead of resist it.

    Your tip about engaging the champions of change is important as well. It helps lift the morale, drive the change and motivate all the parties to push forward.

    I will definitely be incorporating your insights during my next interaction with change management.



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