Washington Evaluators Affiliate Week: Learning (and Re-Learning) the Ropes by Natalie Donahue

This week members of Washington Evaluators are sharing stories from their careers. From their pathways to evaluation to reflections from the field, these anecdotes, recommendations, and lessons learned remind us of the power of the story and the important storytelling role we play as evaluators.

Hi! I’m Natalie Donahue. I work in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Monitoring Evaluation Learning and Innovation (MELI) Unit and am proud to be this year’s Washington Evaluators President.

Like most evaluators I know, I fell into this field unwittingly. My first job out of grad school was as a Proposal Coordinator for DevTech Systems, Inc., where I had the luxury of working on proposals in a number of sectors, including M&E – which, at the time, I had no particular interest in. But what I was interested in was traveling. So when a scope of work for an evaluation of a State Department program called for a team of evaluators (including a junior evaluator!) and included fieldwork to Central Asia landed on my desk, I pleaded for management to bid on it. This way I could slot myself in the junior evaluator role (because, hey, I had a class in grad school on Xs and Os and had critiqued a survey once…I figured that was prep enough to be considered “junior”), so I could get on a plane and see the world.

Long story short: we won the bid, I was accepted as the junior evaluator, and I spent three weeks in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan paired with senior (both American and local) evaluators having the time of my life talking to people about their lives and their experiences with the program we were evaluating, learning from the other evaluators, and thinking critically about how to present it all to the client. Shortly after that evaluation, I transitioned out of business development and into a full-time M&E role with the State Department, and I haven’t looked back since.

When I was an undergraduate student all those decades ago, I dreamed of having the most noble of careers: a lottery winner who spends her life as a full-time student. ? While I haven’t fulfilled the first part of that dream, I do think that working in M&E has allowed me to live out the second part. What I love about the field is that I never stop learning. With so many methods, data visualization tools, places to travel, paradigms to study, people to learn from (both fellow evaluators and participants of the programs we are evaluating), storytelling techniques, and the list goes on…it’s definitely one of the best gigs on the planet, and who would argue with that? We all know evaluators have the data to prove it.

Rad Resources

I love to read. Here are some of my favorite evaluation books that I refer back to time and time again, so I can continue learning (and re-learning):

This introvert extraordinaire becomes an extreme extrovert (ok, not really… but it feels like it) non-stop chatterbox when she’s around her fellow evaluators. So if you want to nerd out but haven’t joined your local AEA affiliate yet, please consider it. Here’s the list, so you can check which one is closest to you.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Washington Evaluators (WE) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from WE Affiliate 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 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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.