Week 1, Part 5: What does Corey Smith know about evaluation use?


I’m Corey Smith, and I wear many different hats. I am currently working on my doctorate in evaluation at Western Michigan University in the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Evaluation program housed in the Evaluation Center. I also work with iEval as an evaluation associate. My evaluation journey has been relatively short, but action packed.

After graduating from Kalamazoo College in 2009 with my B.A., I decided I wanted to stay in Kalamazoo so I applied for an AmeriCorps position with a local nonprofit, which supported students in Kalamazoo Public Schools. During my time in this position I was introduced to evaluation and exposed to its importance for both nonprofits and the field of education. Throughout my undergraduate experience I had spent time thinking and talking about the world of nonprofits and service agencies and the inefficiencies that existed, the lack of observable impact and how an idealistic young college grad could make things better. It is this foundation which had me so intrigued by this new field of evaluation. It offered the opportunity to make change in the world by working to identify what works, what doesn’t and how to use this information to improve services.

iEval happened to become the external evaluator for the nonprofit which I was working for after college. This is how I met Wendy, and when I made the decision to leave that position, I began working a handful of hours a week for iEval on certain projects. I have found it valuable to have opportunities to apply the concepts I have read and talked about in my classes, in the real world. Through my practical, hands-on experience, I quickly realized that evaluation would only achieve the goals that first enticed me to it if it is used. To be used, it must be useful. I’m excited to unpack these themes in a more informal way, with the readers on this blog.

The most frustrating thing for me, as an evaluator, is to put time, thought and effort into an evaluation and have it sit on a shelf. To me, there is no point in doing an evaluation if a client or program planner isn’t going to use it. That is why I am interested in use, because the alternative is not satisfactory. The alternative means that I am not making an impact, which is what I know I need to stay motivated.

I plan to share ideas around evaluation use by combining my experience with interesting and relevant literature from the field of evaluation. I hope that this blog gives me a way to unpack some of the ideas that pop into my head.

USEFUL TIP: Use resources that exist. There is a vast and wide-ranging literature base on evaluation use. It is one of the places where evaluators have done a good job of empirically examining evaluation practice. In fact, there is a whole approach dedicated to use, Pattons Utilization focused evaluation.