WMU Scribing: Robert McCowen on Evaluation and Public Policy

My name is Robert McCowen and I am a doctoral fellow in Western Michigan University’s Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Evaluation. I served as a session scribe at Evaluation 2010, and attended session number 651, Introduction to Evaluation and Public Policy. My evaluation interests focus on education, and a great deal of modern educational policy flows from the top down—so it only makes sense to find out as much as possible about how policy is made, and how evaluators can make sure their voices are heard.

Lessons Learned: George Grob, the presenter, has a long history of involvement with evaluation and government. Among his many past positions is a 15-year term as the Director of the Inspector General’s Office of Evaluation and Inspections. He had a number of wise statements for evaluators:

  • “Home runs” do happen in government, but that’s not how games are won. Rejoice if your work finds instrumental use in legislation or regulation, but don’t make it your only goal.
  • Get to know the gatekeepers in government, whether at the federal and state level. Work with them, listen to them, keep them informed, be willing to respect their schedules, and you’ll have a much easier time making sure your reports get to where they can do the most good.
  • Know the relevant body of work when you deal with policymakers. Assume they know everything important about the topics they deal with (because they might), and strive to do the same.
  • When writing reports, you have maybe two pages to catch the eye and make a case for your conclusions. Make sure your best evidence and most compelling findings are obvious to readers.
  • Be as professional as possible, including making sure your integrity and independence are unimpeachable—but be careful to keep lines of communication and cooperation open with major policymakers and other stakeholders.

Great Resource: Mr. Grob’s presentation is an excellent resource for any evaluator who is new to dealing with government, and can be found here at the AEA public eLibrary.

At AEA’s 2010 Annual Conference, session scribes took notes at over 30 sessions and we’ll be sharing their work throughout the winter on aea365. This week’s scribing posts were done by the students in Western Michigan University’s Interdisciplinary PhD program. 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.

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