The Improve Group Week: Better together: approaching an evaluation as an equal by Claire Stoscheck

Hi, I’m Claire Stoscheck, a Research Analyst with The Improve Group, an evaluation consulting firm based in Minnesota. I wanted to share with you an important part of this work, and one I am constantly reminded of – how creating space for clients to contribute their specialized knowledge leads to innovation and great ideas in evaluation projects.

We are currently building capacity for evaluation with the Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative (LPCFC) to evaluate the healthy spaces it is developing in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Duluth, Minnesota. The Collaborative is integrating Commercial Tobacco Free Zones with spaces that inspire and facilitate healthy eating and physical activity for a wraparound healthy experience for community members.

Lesson Learned: From the start, the Collaborative’s executive director, who does have evaluation experience, emphasized the community expertise among staff – we took this as our cue to design the first capacity building workshop in a way to maximize that knowledge. We provided basic evaluation training that included hands-on activities, followed by co-creation of data collection methods, which maximized participation and was inclusive of a diversity of perspectives. Through thoughtful facilitation, staff were able to provide rich and relevant ideas, like including photo-stories as a data collection method, and adding the evaluation question of how a community defines health for itself. The cultural and experiential expertise that LPCFC staff and volunteers brought to the table was synergistic with the technical expertise that I brought.

Together, we created interactive surveys for youth with methods like dot voting, and identified well-attended weekly dinners as a possible strategy for data collection – again, tapping into the knowledge of local program staff. In this way, we all benefited with a better evaluation based on shared knowledge. In the fall, we will do another capacity-building workshop together, this time focused on participatory data analysis.

Lesson Learned: The LPCFC project also reminded me how people who aren’t evaluators can be just as passionate about evaluation. To create that culture of collaboration – especially in evaluating culturally specific programs – it is crucial to approach projects as equals, understanding that clients bring information that is as valuable – or more – as the tools we bring as professional evaluators. Along the way, we as evaluators can learn very applicable skills from our clients – a humbling reminder.

LPCFC is becoming infused with an evaluative culture, as highly engaged staff members realize another way they can use their community expertise. When communities build their own evaluation and research skills, they can more easily design and implement evaluations and research projects that answer key questions emerging from their own communities.

The American Evaluation Association is highlighting the work of The Improve Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from staff of The Improve Group. 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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