There’s a comment you often hear when working with nonprofit organizations that goes something like “We know when we’ve been successful because we’ll have worked ourselves out of a job.” I’m sure you’ve heard that before…AIDS has been cured so there’s no need for HIV support organizations, all students exceed adequate yearly academic progress so there’s no need for afterschool academic programs, everyone is physical healthy so there’s no need for nutrition clubs…you get the idea. In the perfect world, things would work that way and then people would develop new jobs that could meet the changing needs of society.
Teaching is on my mind right now, as a new semester at Western Michigan University starts where I’m teaching Program Evaluation Theory. When working with evaluation clients, I really prefer to teach them a bit about evaluation along the way. I don’t expect them to know all of the evaluation theories, study the founders of the field, run regression analyses, or anything like that, but I want them to have some general understandings of evaluation concepts and be able to apply them in their own work without me holding their hand. I don’t want to completely work myself out of a job by teaching them everything, but I would like to work myself into a different perspective of evaluation work because the clients are able to systematically integrate evaluation into the way they do business. And, I strongly believe, and have seen it to happen many times, that if clients better understand some of the fundamentals of evaluation, then they will be more likely to seriously contemplate and apply evaluation findings.
Here’s a few of the fundamentals I think we, as evaluators, should be teaching our clients:
- The rights of human subjects – I don’t believe our clients need to memorize The Belmont Report or be experts in FERPA or HIPAA, but I do think they need to have some basic understanding of how evaluations are designed to protect the rights of individuals. I think that working the core principles from The Belmont Report (respect for persons, beneficence, and justice) and their application (informed consent, assessment of risks and benefits, and selection of subjects) into everyday common language with the client will help build trust that the evaluation team is being thoughtful with how you are working with their participants and staff.
- The process of evaluation – I think the clients should clearly understand what the evaluation steps are and why they are being done. The more transparent we are with the work we are doing, the more readily clients will accept the work and be willing to spend time interpreting and using it. With process, I like to focus more on the WHY, so clients understand why we make the evaluative choices we do. For example, why is it better to post-test six weeks after an intervention instead of immediately after an intervention…having that discussion with the client helps them make more informed decisions about program and evaluation design in the future too.
- Sharing results – Of course USING evaluation findings is the most important, but that’s what this entire blog is about…so it’s not just one bullet point in one post. It’s also critical to help the client understand how to share results – whether that’s creating PowerPoint decks, brochures, executive summaries, dashboards, interpretive dance…you get the idea. Make sure you ensure the client is understanding the key findings that are important to share with others, deciding what to share with whom (some findings may be more relevant for funders, others for program staff, and others for board members), and sharing that information in a succinct, user-friendly way.