They Love Me, They Love Me Not…(Part 3) by Kavita Mittapalli

Hello, AEA365 community! Liz DiLuzio here, Lead Curator of the blog. This week is Individuals Week, which means we take a break from our themed weeks and spotlight the Hot Tips, Cool Tricks, Rad Resources and Lessons Learned from any evaluator interested in sharing. Would you like to contribute to future individuals weeks? Email me at AEA365@eval.org with an idea or a draft and we will make it happen.


Photo of Kavita Mittapalli, PhD
Kavita Mittapalli, PhD

Hello! I am Kavita Mittapalli, Ph.D. I own a K-16 research and evaluation firm, MN Associates, Inc. (MNA) just outside Washington DC metropolitan area. I founded MNA in 2004 as a graduate student at George Mason University. I have a Ph.D. in Research Design and Methodology in Education. We are a team of five evaluators and an administrative staff with a combined 65 years of experience conducting a wide variety of social science and STEM education research and evaluation projects across the country.

They love me, they love me not. I love them, I love them not.

Sometimes, we are eager to take on new work, either to collaborate on a grant proposal/an awarded grant that comes our way through a reference. After all, new work is exciting and good. Right! Right? 

Well, maybe or maybe not. I think most of us here have learned a few lessons along the way.

Hot Tips

Here are a few tips/approaches to help figure out a client from afar (by that I mean via emails, an introductory phone call, or a Zoom meeting before signing a contract or beginning new work). During these conversations, do gather as much information as feasible: (Note: these items vary widely depending upon the size and timelines of the project).

  1. Scope of work
  2. Client’s expectations—deliverables, timelines, project team 
  3. (Know their) General understanding of evaluation 
  4. (Know their) Understanding of data—especially, how often, what kinds of data will need to be collected (by) when and whom—do they have capacity to help on site, if needed?
  5. Have they worked with evaluator(s) before? What has been their experience?
  6. Budget (labor/cost)
  7. Do they appear personable, approachable, and/or relational in nature?
  8. Is an evaluator considered a collaborative partner?
  9. Are you getting positive vibes from the meeting(s)? 

What are the tell tales that this opportunity may not be a good fit for you from your initial communication(s) and meeting(s)? 

  1. Believe it or not, a majority of the time, it’s the budget and probably an easy dealbreaker
  2. Understanding or the lack thereof about data and evaluation in general
  3. Lack of capacity and infrastructure on site to carry on the project well and/or collaborate on data collection/administration work on site
  4. Impersonal nature/communication (sometimes this is very hard to gauge)
  5. Your own personal ability and capacity (++ patience and endurance) to work under less than ideal conditions to complete a quality and timely product for the client and funding agency (but, everyone is different!)

But what if the relationship turns sour later?

Well, first off, try to not burn any bridges. And if you are really unable to continue working with them, then:

  1. Be direct but civil and professional in communicating early and directly to the client to explain to them what’s not working for you
  2. Check the termination clause in your contract, if you have one
  3. Personally, I prefer to Zoom with a follow-up email to close the loop on the contract closure/termination and make it official but sometimes, I have used emails (in a formal memo format) to communicate the message 
  4. Provide a plan for your exit/departure. And plan to complete your obligations, if any 
  5. Thank them for the opportunity, and
  6. Learn from this experience and pray that it doesn’t happen again.

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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