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Washington Evaluators Affiliate Week: Zooming Out for a Broader Perspective: My Journey into Evaluation by Joanna Prout

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 Joanna Prout! I do research and program evaluation, however I started my career as a therapist and psychologist. I spent years watching clients struggle to get effective and accessible treatment and support. Seeing these struggles showed me our need to get information to make services more accessible and effective, so I pursued a career in research.

When the COVID-19 pandemic happened, I was frustrated with the limits of the research I was doing. I was putting work in, but findings were rarely used. I was stuck, but I was also poised for a change. With the stay-at-home orders, I had more time on my hands and a lot of evaluation meetings and events were available online. 

Being able to attend these events re-energized me. I was excited by how collaborative evaluation was. I loved the emphasis on how systems and community were essential to peoples’ wellbeing. In psychology, the focus is often how to make an individual better fit into their environment. The perspective that it is often the system that needs to change to improve the lives of many individuals is equally important.

Hot Tips

Below are three tips for broadening your perspective when you are feeling stuck:

  1. Embrace having been wrong. Accept that you’ll be wrong again. As I started broadening my perspective from a specific type of psychology I had to go through the painful process of acknowledging that a lot of what I had learned and accepted was wrong and potentially harmful to people. Now, I have to think about and accept that what I am doing now may make me cringe later! Being able to be wrong has been so freeing.
  1. Go to webinars and events in other fields. If there is an event or talk that sounds like it might be interesting and is even tangentially related to what you do, go to it! Even if it is not in your field! Hearing people talk about topics that I knew a lot about from a new perspective—like hearing economists, user experience researchers, sociologists, tech, and business people talk about mental health—was invaluable.
  1. Be flexible and patient with yourself. For a long time I thought I had to pick a field and align myself with it entirely. Am I a psychologist? Am I a program evaluator? Should I be a user-experience researcher? Right now I feel like I don’t have to pick. I can take what I like from each field to do the best work possible. My unique perspective is the gift I bring. And your gift is the same!

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.

1 thought on “Washington Evaluators Affiliate Week: Zooming Out for a Broader Perspective: My Journey into Evaluation by Joanna Prout”

  1. Your blog addressed a common but troublesome trend I have seen in many people. The fear of not being totally correct and perfect in all verbal or written communication. We can all benefit greatly by expressing our thoughts and being willing to admit we are not going to be outstanding every time; we may even be wrong! Sometimes, as the old saying goes, we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by constructive criticism. Although it’s difficult to admit we make mistakes, those errors, when met by disagreement are how we learn to be better. Learning is a lifetime process, after all and there is great potential to learn from everyone, when we take the time to listen and reflect. This quote sums it all quite well: “An expert knows more and more about less and less until he or she knows everything about nothing.” (Sir Patrick Geddes British Biologist and Sociologist).

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