Softening the Blow of Bad News by Glenn Landers

AEA365 Curator note: Back in January, AEA365 readers asked to read about how evaluators deliver negative findings to clients and stakeholders. This week, we feature 5 articles with four evaluator perspectives on this topic. 

Hello AEA 365 readers! I’m Glenn Landers, the Director of Health Systems at the Georgia Health Policy Center (Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University). A large portion of our work is evaluation, and we’ve been fortunate enough to work in every state and many of the territories. No one likes being the bearer of bad news, but sometimes it can’t be helped.

Recently, I was engaged in a developmental evaluation of a collective impact initiative that was intended to last ten years with ample funding. Five months in, we realized the initiative was in trouble. One year in, the project was basically over. Several techniques helped incorporate the bad news into the process as learning.

Hot Tip:

Evaluation Advisory Groups! We always try to have an advisory group made up of those whose work is being evaluated and those who will use the products of the evaluation. This way, we can test what we are learning with a small group for feedback before sharing with a wider audience.

Hot Tip:

Feedback loops! We also set up several feedback loops with the funder, the facilitator, and the work’s steering committee. This way, we shared information in small packets and gained the benefit of group sense making so that everyone understood why things weren’t working as planned.

Hot Tip:

Evaluation as Learning! We were fortunate to have a project sponsor who was interested in learning from what was not working just as much as what was working. Knowing this upfront helped us to be more comfortable in being candid.

Lesson Learned:

There’s nothing that can be substituted for being present with the people who are doing the work. Relationships and trust develop over time. The more present you are with them, the more they will be able to be in a position to hear the results – whether good or bad.

What’s worked for you in delivering bad news?

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.

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