Anyone that has been an evaluator for more than a day has come to know how complicated it is to answer the question “So, what do you do?” In other words, what is your job? I’ve had one adolescent say, “So…you go into schools and sort of tell them what is good and bad—you are like Child Protective Services for schools?” Well, not exactly. Others, “so you get to travel all over and tell people what they do wrong? Awesome.” No, not that either. And my friends that are also mothers to young children say, “So you have a job as a consultant so you really only need to work when you want to. Can I work with you?” Oh, that is not even close to right.
Instead of writing an entire post about clarifying what an evaluator is, I’d like to discuss an important word that I think goes into being a good evaluator. Coach. (Definition: 1. a person who teaches and trains an athlete or performer 2. a person who teaches and trains the members of a sports team and makes decisions about how the team plays during games)
There are periods of time with my clients that I do very little data gathering and analysis, instead spending more time helping them think strategically to get their end results. I think, as a coach, evaluators are instrumental in:
- Timing evaluation activities with stakeholders in a way that will garner the best response rates and/or interest from stakeholders. For example, if there is momentum around a particular topic or event, tapping into that energy to get participation in gathering documents, conducting interviews, or completing surveys is key.
- Working with clients to select purposeful and strategic evaluation activities. For example, rather than conducting surveys haphazardly to every program, data collection should be strategically mapped out to align to program goals.
- Rallying the troops when spirits are low and clients are overwhelmed. Clients often live in the weeds of the work and it can be difficult for them to get a treetop view of what they are trying to accomplish and how evaluation can assist with that.
- Providing perspective, strategy and guidance when personal frustration with the work is clouding professional judgment. Listening to stories of gloom from clients is an important aspect of being an evaluator. It builds trust and relationships, but also adds context to evaluation design and provides an opportunity to steer the work back in a positive direction.
KELLEY’S USEFUL TIP: Being a coach to clients is a very important part of the job. However, it is important to set boundaries on communication with clients. Just because a client has your cell phone number and knows you are responsive to emails, it is important not to get in the habit of answering emails at midnight or picking up the phone when they call after 6 or 7 pm. Of course there are always exceptions, but overall, maintaining healthy boundaries is better.