Hi, I’m Susan Eriksson, a geologist and science educator reformed as an evaluator for science-related programs. I write from my experience as a scientist turned evaluator with many years of working with evaluators, doing my own internal evaluation, and now doing evaluation for others.
Lesson Learned: It seems that many people really ‘don’t get’ evaluation. “Why do we need this?” “Evaluators just make work for themselves.” “You put WHAT in the budget!” Grants administrators, financial people, boards and advisory committees, heads of organizations, and STEM Principal Investigators commonly ask why evaluation is important and why it costs so much.
As an independent evaluator, I am still educating people about what evaluation is. One of the more interesting comments I’ve heard recently was from a program officer in an un-named federal agency. “Susan, why would anyone hire YOU? Evaluators are social science researchers!” Although a reformed scientist/educator does not necessarily qualify as an evaluator, many people equate social science research with evaluation.
Evaluation is deemed increasingly important by our government – knowledge- generation faster and supported by evidence! People giving out the grants want to do the ‘right thing’ but many admit they don’t know what good evaluation looks like. In addition, many grant proposal reviewers are inexperienced in evaluation. I just sat on a review panel in which the relatively inexperienced science faculty spoke highly of proposals who mention the phrase ‘external evaluator’. At Evaluation 2013, an NSF officer told us to always include a logic model because reviewers are just beginning to understand those.
We have a long way to go for people to understand the breadth and depth of good evaluation.
Hot Tip: Continue to use any opportunity to educate your clients, your peers, your friendly grant administrator about what evaluation is, what good evaluation looks like, and why evaluation is important in helping people ask the right questions and get significant answers.
Rad Resources: Three websites are great for our colleagues and clients who need a boost in evaluation:
- Better Evaluation is an international collaboration to improve evaluation practice and theory by sharing information about options and approaches.
- National Science Foundation; the well-used 2002 User-Friendly Handbook for Project Evaluation.
- And a tip from my colleague Ayesha Tillman writing in this same STEM evaluation blog series, “Read and become familiar with AEA’s Guiding principles for evaluators.”
Susan Eriksson is a leader in the newly formed STEM Education and Training TIG. Check out our TIG Website for more resources and information.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating STEM Education and Training TIG Week with our colleagues in the STEM Education and Training Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our STEM 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.