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The Evaluation Center at WMU Week: Celebrating The Evaluation Center’s 50 Years at Western Michigan University by Lori Wingate

Hello! I’m Lori Wingate, the executive director of The Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University (WMU). This week of AEA365 celebrates The Evaluation Center’s 50 years at WMU. In this blog, I share a bit of the center’s history and factors I believe have contributed to our success and sustainability, mainly for the benefit of colleagues at other university-based evaluation centers (but there may be lessons for private and nonprofit firms as well). The remainder of this week’s blogs feature different, specific aspects of our work and related lessons learned.

The Evaluation Center’s history actually stretches back further than the half-century we are currently celebrating. It was founded at The Ohio State University in 1965 by Daniel Stufflebeam, before moving to WMU in 1973. I attribute our longevity to three factors:

  1. Location. The Evaluation Center has always been housed in departments that allowed independence and multidisciplinary practice. Currently (and for my entire time here), we’re located within the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation (ORI). Not being in an academic unit enhances our reputation as interdisciplinary evaluators who aren’t tied to a single field or topic area. It also makes us more accessible to our campus colleagues from different departments. Our partners have included faculty from the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Education and Human Development, and Health and Human Services, and even other nonacademic units such as the Office of Governmental Relations and Community Partnerships and Office of Faculty Development.
  2. University Support. The center has been fortunate to receive consistent support from WMU over the past five decades. As budgets have tightened across nearly all of higher education in the US, the University’s financial support of the center has necessarily declined as well. But it is still substantial: the University supports key administrative positions and, most importantly, shares an equitable proportion of indirect cost returns with us. This support has been critical to our sustainability and allowed us to invest in initiatives that help advance our mission (many of which are featured in this week’s series of blogs).
  3. Mission. The Evaluation Center’s mission goes beyond providing high-quality evaluation services to the organizations we partner with. Our mission is to advance the theory, practice, and use of evaluation. We pursue this mission by conducting research on evaluation, engaging in evaluation capacity-building, and providing open-access evaluation resources and activities, including the Evaluation Checklists Project, the Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation, and the Evaluation Café.  

Rad Resource

  • If you work at a university-based center, get involved with AEA’s UBC TIG. Members meet monthly on Zoom to share their experiences and strategies.

Lessons Learned

  • Self-funded endeavors, even when mission-driven, are the first thing to get pushed aside when the demands associated with funded projects build up. Make these part of someone’s job to ensure the initiatives stay on track in the absence of an external, paying client.
  • It’s easy for an evaluation center that mainly serves outside groups to become siloed and overlooked within a university. Remember to engage with your university community by serving on committees, providing evaluation advice for faculty-led grants, and participating in campus activities. Celebrate your successes publicly by issuing press releases. WMU’s Office of Strategic Marking and Communications was thrilled to share our recent notable achievements – it was really just a matter of looping them in.

As you read the rest of this week’s blogs, I hope you can benefit from our lessons learned and maybe even get inspired to take part in what The Evaluation Center has to offer and be part of our next 50 years.

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.

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