I am Amy Hilgendorf, Associate Director for Engaged Research at the Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For the past three years, I have had the pleasure of convening a community of practice of evaluation practitioners here on our campus. What started with two graduate students and their interest in getting to know evaluators on campus and creating space for learning together, has grown to become much more.
A lot of good can come from just a little bit of effort! While there’s a lot you can read out there about communities of practice and how to support them, ours runs with just a few simple practices:
- Come together regularly (typically once a month)
- Highlight the work of a member and/or a topic of shared interest for evaluators
- Provide food and reserve time for networking
- Help members communicate with one another (like through an email list or with social media)
With just these few practices, we have grown to a network of more than 80 evaluation practitioners, students, and appreciators, and have started to incorporate members not affiliated with the university. I am especially proud of the exchanges we have had in our monthly gatherings, including thoughtful conversations around evaluation ethics enhancing social justice through evaluation practice.
When you build a network of smart and passionate people, valuable developments will rise organically. Through our community of practice, I have learned about approaches and methods I knew little about before, such as Ripple Effect Mapping and critical cartography. We have also gained the inside scoop on AEA’s Graduate Education Diversity Initiative (GEDI) from our university’s resident intern and some of us are working together to coordinate applications to host GEDI’s next year. And this summer, we plan to use some of our time together to develop ideas for how we can build and support a pipeline at our university for more evaluators of diverse and underserved backgrounds.
Building relationships, including professional ones, often comes down to getting to know each other and having fun together. So make sure to reserve time and space for networking and fun in a community of practice. One of our best attended sessions has been our summer happy hour at the student union by the lake, with a cold Wisconsin brew in hand.
From our community of practice to yours, thank you.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating The Wisconsin Idea in Action Week coordinated by the LEAD Center. The LEAD (Learning through Evaluation, Adaptation, and Dissemination) Center is housed within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) at the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison and advances the quality of teaching and learning by evaluating the effectiveness and impact of educational innovations, policies, and practices within higher education. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from student and adult evaluators living in and practicing evaluation from the state of WI. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.