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Stanley Capela & Ariana Brooks on Planting a Seed to Overcome Resistance to Evaluation

Our names are Stanley Capela, the Vice President for Quality Management, and Ariana Brooks, Director of Evaluation, Planning and Research at HeartShare Human Services. Over the past several years we have had the pleasure of evaluating programs in the non-profit sector as internal evaluators and have participated on various committees that include non-profit and government agencies charged with designing program evaluation systems. During our careers we have had to deal with resistance from a variety of sources. At times we have become frustrated but over the years we developed a recipe for combating resistance.

Hot Tip: Recipe for Combating Resistance.

First, evaluators tend to take things personally so the first step is to remove your ego. You will face many critiques, usually from a natural, defensive reaction of stakeholders when receiving information that does not fit their beliefs about the program. The strongest defense you have is sound methodology and supportive data. No matter how smart you think you are, facts and numbers provide a sounder foundation.

Second, add a dose of reflection by listening to what the stakeholders need.  As an expert there is a tendency to assume you know what’s best but often you go farther if you take the time to listen and adapt to stakeholder needs. Specifically, understand their needs and talk in a language that is understandable.

Third, add a cup of realism by clearly spelling out what you can and cannot do for the stakeholders. Empty promises are the main ingredient to resistance, as it cuts at your credibility and trustworthiness.

Fourth, add a dash of adaptability by understanding what worked before may not work again. There has to be a willingness to understand the funding source needs and organization culture can change.

Fifth, engage everyone in the process by identifying strengths and using the word challenges versus deficiencies or weaknesses; it goes over better with the various stakeholders. You must also realize that as people’s investment in their work increases, the more resistant they will be to ANYONE taking a critical look at the work they value so much.

Hot Tip: Avoid any appearance of an “I gotcha!” attitude or approach.

Finally, always be on the lookout for the individual(s) whose sole mission is to plant a seed of distrust. When it happens, make sure you have a realistic game plan to combat it such as having senior management buy in to the process.  More importantly, line staff usually is least resistant to evaluation, yet often play a vital role in the process (e.g. data collection).So if you can help them understand the benefits of evaluation in the end, you will create, to coin a Patton phrase, “utilization focused evaluation”.

This contribution is from the aea365 Tip-a-Day Alerts, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org.

2 thoughts on “Stanley Capela & Ariana Brooks on Planting a Seed to Overcome Resistance to Evaluation”

  1. Hi Stanley, Hello Ariana,

    Great tips for overcoming resistance! I wanted to re-emphasize the importance of engaging everyone in the process. I’ve found that this increases buy-in and provides a true sense of accountability. I also wanted to add the importance of going after the, “low hanging fruit.” Meaning, use those supporters and champions of the evaluation to help gain support of those “fence sitters.” A fact of life is–you’ll always have individuals who will resist and may, unfortunately, never change their minds. So, you must pick your battles!

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I wonder about your statement, “You must also realize that as people’s investment in their work increases, the more resistant they will be to ANYONE taking a critical look at the work they value so much.” In my experience there are many people very invested in their work who are also very invested — or could by very invested, if cultivated well — in increasing the impact of their work, even though it can be personally and professionally difficult. I often see the process of tapping into this commitment and/or engaging in this cultivation to grow commitment as key to my role as an evaluator.

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