Washington Evaluators Week: Evaluation Without Borders: A Unique Opportunity for Evaluators to Pay-it-Forward by Lauren Jowell

Greetings, fellow evaluators! My name is Lauren Jowell, I am an evaluation team lead in the federal government and a member of Washington Evaluators based in Washington, D.C. After attending my second AEA conference in 2018, I was energized to be a more active member of WE. When I saw an email calling for volunteers to participate in the Evaluation Without Borders (EWB) initiative in early 2019, I jumped at the opportunity to participate.

Having served in the Peace Corps, a pro bono evaluation opportunity with a local non-profit felt like the right opportunity for me to become more involved in EWB. I was nervous that my background in government-based monitoring and evaluation would not be relevant, but I was open to learning from others and contributing what I could.

After I registered to participate, Washington Evaluators partnered me with two other evaluators, and we were matched with the grassroots international development organization, I Am, We Are. The other evaluators and I had an introductory EWB team call, and then we reached out to the organization to understand their needs, goals, define the scope of the project, and identify a timeline for our engagement.

After the initial phone call, our team realized that the organization already had foundational monitoring and evaluation plans and had collected data for their annual report. How could we provide further assistance? We realized that a review of their existing materials combined with additional comments, suggestions, and tools would provide tremendous support. With this in mind, we developed a Memorandum of Understanding and outlined objectives to move forward.

Over the course of three months, the EWB team reviewed the organization’s documents, and produced a deliverable in the form of a shared file with notes, comments, additional tools and resources. One of the main challenges we encountered was that some of the organization’s team members were either located in or traveling back and forth between Africa at the time we were coordinating the engagement. Such a time difference meant that we had to connect with a constantly varying schedule. To address the issue, we communicated as often as possible via email. The whole process was very relaxed and collaborative. Furthermore, each EWB team member was able to contribute their unique knowledge to our final deliverable.

Lesson Learned:

For me, there were a number of personal benefits to participating in EWB. It was refreshing to work on a project that was not directly related to my day-to-day job and the experience provided the opportunity to “give back.” It also boosted my self-confidence because it allowed me to see that my knowledge of monitoring and evaluation was a useful complement to a team. Overall, I enjoyed collaborating with others in the DC area and learning about the work of a small, international non-profit organization. I plan to participate in the EWB initiative again, and recommend the experience to anyone looking for a way to give back and/or grow professionally.

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.

1 thought on “Washington Evaluators Week: Evaluation Without Borders: A Unique Opportunity for Evaluators to Pay-it-Forward by Lauren Jowell”

  1. Hello Lauren,
    My name is Alex Vendramin and I am currently a student working on my Master’s in education. I am studying a few courses on the idea of evaluation. This idea of evaluation was entirely new for me, I was not sure about what it was or what the intended uses of evaluation are. Often times within the course that I am participating in we have looked at social non-profit programs around Canada. An idea that always popped into my mind while doing this was not only the time constraints of doing an evaluation, but also cost to the program.

    Many of these non-profit organizations are running to help a specific demographic of people through sponsorships, government funding and generous donations. The idea of evaluating these specific programs always caused me to question; “Where is the money coming from?” Surely the evaluation would be directed at improving the social program in some way, shape or form, but is it justified to take money away from the cause at hand and direct this towards an evaluation

    I am writing you because the idea of the Evaluation Without Borders (EWB) is an amazing opportunity for non-profit organizations. It is my belief that if these programs did not have to pay out of pocket for an evaluation to take place, program leaders would not only be more likely to do it, but also be much better for it. A simple outcome evaluation of one of these social programs can lead to a world of difference. These differences may allow for more people to benefit from the program, or the specific target demographic to benefit at a much larger scale.

    Furthermore, a positive evaluation for these non-profit organizations can allow them to secure more funding from the public. As a result of this increase in capital the programs can likely expand to reach either a larger amount of people, or help their target demographic in a larger capacity. I will be looking into EWB within Canada, and specifically Ontario to see if there is an infrastructure in place already. Once I complete my education I would like to pay it forward in this regard, however I am very inexperienced in evaluation. More practice would be necessary in order for me to become a beneficial member of the team. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed reading through your blog and wish you the best.

    Thank you and kind regards,
    Alex Vendramin

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