Hello, I’m Stacy Johnson, a Research and Evaluation Director with The Improve Group, an evaluation consulting firm in Minnesota. I often get asked, “What do you do?” at a dinner party – and as an evaluator, I find that it’s not always easy to explain, especially to people who don’t have any experience in evaluation. Yet, at The Improve Group, we want to raise the profile of our field so more people understand what we do, find ways to think evaluatively, and maybe even consider evaluation as a possible career.
It can be helpful to explain evaluation by reminding people that they use evaluative thinking in their everyday lives, and by using relatable examples and anecdotes.
Lesson Learned: It turns out, there’s a way to promote our field just by doing it – by partnering with clients through evaluation capacity-building projects. We’re finding that by learning and implementing evaluation methods themselves, clients in capacity-building projects are more drawn into the work, and often end up walking away with a better understanding of the field as a whole and, in some cases, a lasting interest.
We’ve also noticed that capacity-building projects can lead to our contacts becoming evaluation champions, as they learn the ropes and gain a passion and appreciation for our work by hands-on learning. These “cheerleaders” can use that evaluative culture wherever they go, including in future jobs, spreading the importance of evaluation to more communities and organizations. This is particularly exciting for us, as we have a value around sharing this knowledge so organizations can strengthen their impact. A recent client told us they were excited to have transferrable skills that would apply in their next job, too. For some, especially in youth-oriented projects with individuals who may be at an age when they are deciding their field of work, capacity-building workshops and training can even plant the seed for evaluation as a career!
Lesson Learned: At The Improve Group, we do capacity building in different ways, whether it is to maximize a client’s limited funds or as technical assistance to build capacity within a group of grantees. One recent partner is the Twin Cities-based Ann Bancroft Foundation, which we helped to develop evaluation strategies to articulate and deepen organizational impact. For the Pearl Crisis Center, in greater Minnesota, we provided capacity building for staff to revise data collection tools and management. In capacity-building projects of all kinds, we find that by inviting clients to join us in building their knowledge and hands-on experience in evaluation, it opens their eyes and they begin to see evaluation opportunities all around them.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.