I talked with two potential clients this week, and both ended up being great conversations in how they plan to dive deeper into what makes their programming valuable to their audiences. There were lots of aha moments—on their end as well as mine—in how they conceptualize a potential evaluation project or training for their staff, the various evaluation theories thy can draw inspiration from, and how prepared their staff is to embark on a small or large-scale evaluation project.
A few of those aha moments centered on my process for conducting an evaluation, and in how I assist clients in incorporating evaluative thinking in their work. Oftentimes, discussions on evaluation don’t come into the very end of a project, so I encourage clients at the onset of a program to think more about what value their programming is expected to have on their audience.
While I typically have potential clients complete my client questionnaire prior to speaking with me, most of the time I’ll meet a potential client in person via a networking opportunity before setting up a time to discuss further.
During these recent calls, I found that we spent most of the time discussing how I go about conducting an evaluation or setting up a staff training on aspects of evaluation and how they can compliment their project. In those conversations, I touched on three key factors an organization needs to consider, thus impacting how to measure the value of their program:
A potential client questionnaire allows for a client to conceptualize a potential evaluation project, and an in-person meeting or a phone call allows for deeper understanding and relationship building. Regardless of which precedes the other, clarity on what you want to do is important. One of the benefits of being an independent evaluator is that I’m able to provide objective feedback on a client’s project and outline the factors that may impact the process of the evaluation project. Another role for developing clarity is in deciding if you really need an external evaluator to take a lead on this project or if there’s another way to add more value to this process. Which leads into my second key factor.
Some organizations have a dedicated team or person that focuses on all the evaluation work. Many definitely don’t, and that’s why they look for external alternatives. Monetary constraints aside, being honest about your staff’s capacity to take on an evaluation project is critical. Regardless of what the evaluation project actually shapes out to be, if your staff doesn’t have the capacity to do it, or even to work with an external evaluator, then things can get murky. Additionally, gaining clarity helps in determining your staff’s level of readiness to work with an evaluator or to work together to an evaluation project. If you’re looking for an external evaluator, but your staff seems to be interested in learning more about the evaluation process and how to create a evaluation plan that fits the needs of their project, maybe hiring an evaluator to conduct staff trainings is more advantageous. It leads to capacity building, which can also lead into generating buy-in among staff who may be skeptical or lacking in confidence in doing evaluation work.
How long do you expect for your evaluation project to take, and can your budget and staff account for any changes that can alter the evaluation plan? Participant interaction, staffing, evaluation methods, budgeting and other conditions can impact the start and ending of a project. Can you be flexible with your timeline, or does the project have to be done by a certain date? Being reasonable with this can impact how an evaluator’s capacity to work with you.
Diving deeper into these key factors can help you have a productive conversation and a productive working relationship with an external evaluator.
And, of course, if you’re interested in working with me on an evaluation project, let me know.