Washington Evaluators Week: Evaluation Without Borders: A Note from the Program Coordinator by Laura O’Brien

Hi AEA! My name is Laura O’Brien, currently serving as the coordinator for the Evaluation without Borders (EWB) program through Washington Evaluators (WE). I first got involved with EWB when I was matched with current WE President, Patricia Moore Shaffer, as my mentor through our Mentor Minutes program. Over a bowl of pho very close to AEA Minneapolis, I shared my desire to broaden my experience in evaluation beyond international development, my current field, and get to know the dynamics of a DC-based nonprofit organization. Well, she had just the role for me!

The most recent call for EWB volunteers and clients ran from February to April of this year. Throughout the two-month window, we received applications from 50 prospective pro bono evaluators (WE members), including several from outside the DC metropolitan area. We also received interest forms from seven prospective clients – a mix of DC-area nonprofits, as well as organizations in Haiti, Kenya, Nepal, and Pakistan. In May, we were able to match teams of five evaluators with six of the organizations. Throughout the matching process, we aimed to bring together different levels of experience and skill sets together so that the team members could learn from one another as well as the experience. After a virtual kickoff to set expectations, they were off!

EWB has not been exempt from the effects of a tumultuous 2020. Three of our EWB teams were able to march smoothly along and soon developed thoughtful Memorandums Of Understanding with their clients, but the other three clients were non-responsive even though they had submitted the initial interest form. We attributed this silence as likely an unfortunate consequence of distraction and disruption from COVID-19. The client I had hoped to support, One Common Unity, was unfortunately one of the initially silent teams due to busy schedules and pivoting programs in the onset of COVID-19. Thankfully, they have since reached out and our team is now actively working with them to develop an evaluation strategy and accompanying capacity building plan to support their new five-year strategic plan. We are also hoping to develop a plan for how to enable their signature Fly by Light program to become an evidence-based intervention. It is still very early in the project, but I already have a huge appreciation for the enthusiasm and ideas of my fellow evaluators and the openness of our client.

Lesson Learned: Due to the extended timeline of support EWB has been able to offer in 2020, we are going to take a pause in launching new pro bono projects this year and instead focus on growing our pool of prospective clients and look into potential new streams of work. We have learned that in times of crisis, such as our world and nation are currently facing, it is more important than ever for community-facing organizations to be able to direct resources to those most in need and demonstrate impact to raise needed funding among other operational and organizational benefits. Furthermore, we know that evaluators can help meet such a need!

Hot Tip: Taking a page out of the book by our friends in Atlanta, we are considering developing an Evaluation 101 course for nonprofit organizations that are interested in our services. This would allow us to both help pro bono clients clarify their needs as well as create more of a demand for and appreciation of evaluation.

This post is part of a six-day series reflecting on lessons learned, highlighting best practices, and sharing recommendations from ‘Evaluation Without Borders’ (EWB), the Pro Bono Evaluation program of Washington Evaluators, a Washington D.C. area affiliate of the American Evaluation Association.


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating 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.

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