Social Work TIG Week: The Value of Social Workers in Evaluation by Aaron Kates

Hi, I am Dr. Aaron Kates. I am a clinical social worker and an independent evaluation consultant from Northwest Indiana. I am a recent graduate of the Interdisciplinary PhD in Evaluation Program at Western Michigan University. 

In this post, I will be sharing the valuable contributions social workers can make to your evaluation team. I see the main contributions of social workers in an interdisciplinary team aligned with the following:

  • Interpersonal competencies
  • Systems thinking
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Knowledge of barriers and limitations
Interpersonal Competencies

Social workers hold cultural and interpersonal competence in the highest regard. Social workers have specialized training on how to interface with people of all religious, ethnic, socioeconomic, and other backgrounds. Adding a social worker to your team would be a valuable asset for the determination of values differences that may affect the implementation of your evaluation project, as well as the interpretation of the results.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a hot topic amongst evaluators. To social workers, however, it is old hat. To the well-trained social worker, thinking this way should be a basic impulse. Social workers are trained to not see people and groups as distinct entities, but as part of a larger system upon which they have an effect, and by which they are affected. Ask any family therapist to riff on possible interpersonal dependencies and contingencies, and you might be sorry you asked.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Social workers regularly operate in interdisciplinary contexts. They are well aware of the ins and outs of the work of physicians, psychologists, attorneys, educators, and policymakers. Their work regularly is touched by and touches all of these professions. Adding a social worker to your team will significantly increase your level of interdisciplinary literacy.

Knowledge of Barriers and Limitations

Ask any social worker who has ever worked as a case-manager or a therapist to describe what barriers their clientele faces, as well as the barriers to delivering the best services, and you might, again, be sorry you asked. Because of this, social workers involved in a program or type of program you are evaluating will likely be the first to tell you why your evaluation plan will fail. They also may be the first to offer a solution.

Rad Resource

For more information as to how adding a social worker to your evaluation team could benefit your work, take a look the NASWs documentation of social worker competencies as they relate to various settings and types of work:

NASW Practice Standards & Guidelines (socialworkers.org)


The American Evaluation Association is hosting SW TIG Week with our colleagues in the Social Work Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our SW 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

2 thoughts on “Social Work TIG Week: The Value of Social Workers in Evaluation by Aaron Kates”

  1. Thank you, Dr. Kates. This is an excellent endorsement. As a program evaluator who trained as a social worker, I couldn’t agree more. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and articulating this so clearly, because I certainly agree that social worker evaluators are a different breed. I’m always trying to get my social work students excited about evaluation, so it was great to hear your perspective.

  2. It was so refreshing to read this column and see all the benefits of working with a social worker on your evaluation team. Even better is a social worker with evaluation experience and training. It would be great to be able to earn social work continuing education credits for the AEA training opportunities and conference. When I served on the Board of the Michigan Association for Evaluation we did offer SW CEU’s at our conferences. If planned far enough ahead of time is it relatively inexpensive. Rita McPhail, LMSW

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