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Washington Evaluators Affiliate Week: Wait, Am I An Evaluator? by Elizabeth Botkin

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 there! I am Elizabeth Botkin, a member of the Washington Evaluators affiliate and a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist at the U.S. Department of State (DoS). I want to tell you a story about how I became an evaluator to hopefully normalize the twisty turny paths a lot of evaluators take.

Open book on a table with sketches of a dreamy landscape above.

Growing up, I wanted to be a firefighter, explorer, doctor, lawyer, spy…you know, the usual. Evaluator was not on that list until many years later, and – to be honest – by the time I wanted to be an evaluator, I already was one!

International development major -> public policy major-> personal assistant -> research analyst (although in hindsight it was definitely performance monitoring) -> evaluator in denial -> EVALUATOR!

From the anecdotal evidence I have collected, my story is not unique. While I am sure they exist, I have yet to meet someone that studied to become an evaluator. But that is what makes the evaluation field so amazing! You combine critical thinkers, people who never grew out of their “but why?” phase, and professionals with all different backgrounds: you get a profession that celebrates diversity, innovates, combines the best attributes of a variety of disciplines, and continues to grow, all while getting to be data nerds.

Lessons Learned

  • You don’t have to study or have a degree in evaluation to be an evaluator. Although there are limited opportunities to formally study evaluation, AEA maintains an awesome list of existing programs. It took me a while to realize that even though I didn’t have a certificate that said “evaluator,” and there wasn’t a big ceremony or cake, I had stumbled into a vocation that I loved (and appeared to be not horrible at).
  • Believe in your dedication to learning and the experience and education you bring with you. If you think like an evaluator, ask questions like an evaluator, document your methodology and decisions like an evaluator, well then, you ARE an evaluator! Having the job title doesn’t hurt though ?.

Hot Tips

  • If you are still a student or a lifelong learner, look for opportunities to take courses that are evaluation adjacent: quantitative and/or qualitative methods, program evaluation, along with literally any course that includes critical thinking.
  • Accept that your family will never understand what you do, unless you happen to come from a long line of evaluators! That goes for friends, too, unfortunately – but if you have good ones they will at least pretend.
  • If you are currently an evaluator, look for opportunities to cultivate the next generation. I realize that when I have the opportunity to talk about my work with students or young professionals, about 60 to 80% of what I say goes over their heads. But there are always those individuals that talk to me afterward to say that M&E was the career they didn’t know they were looking for. Go talk to local colleges and universities, explore internship options at your organization, and look for opportunities to serve as a mentor.

Rad Resources

  • Both emerging and experienced evaluators can always benefit from new trainings, methodologies, and resources. The AEA Digital Knowledge Hub is a great place to start!
  • Look for local AEA affiliates in your area as they often have great events, resources, and development opportunities. Here is a look at the Washington Evaluators’ Resource page!
  • Spend some time learning about different lenses for your evaluator toolbox. For example, We All Count focuses on Data Equity and offers a variety of trainings as well as a weekly free discussion session.

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.

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