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A return to the farm: Lessons from evaluation advocates
by Alison Rogers
In 2020 I wrote a fable about a dog called Champ. This fable was illustrative of anecdotes I heard from evaluators when they talked about non-evaluators on their teams who helped generate momentum for change. Champ from the fable represented the participants from my doctoral research – non-evaluators who were able to effectively persuade their reluctant peers to incorporate evaluation into their routine operations. This follow-up blog shares some the research findings to help answer the question:
Engaging staff in evaluation in non-profit organisations can be particularly challenging. These organisations are trying to solve entrenched social issues, competing with other organisations, and developing information products for different audiences to secure ongoing funding. Staff may be resistant to evaluation because of past negative experiences, confusing terminology, communication barriers and feelings of anxiety. So, although there may be structural issues and resource constraints preventing organisations from using evaluation to improve, explain change and communicate achievements, understanding more about effective interpersonal interactions is vitally important.
The participants in this research, evaluation advocates, were non-evaluators who motivate others and provide energy, interest, and enthusiasm by connecting evaluation with colleagues’ personal aspirations and the organisational goals to make judgements about effectiveness. This research found that participants, who had genuine long-term relationships with their colleagues, incorporated five overarching strategies to persuade their co-workers to effectively engage with evaluation:
- Understood their co-workers as individuals
Participants took time to build strong interpersonal relationships to understand their colleagues’ individual aspirations, their underlying intentions and their motivational drivers
- Tailored communication to be inclusive
Participants said that no one size fitted all. Instead they identified their co-workers’ individual needs, preferences, and learning styles, and showed them how evaluation could assist. They worked to bring their peers talents, perspectives, and worldviews together.
- Found shared goals
After establishing trust, participants made the connection between their co-workers, evaluation, and the organisational goals. They connected their colleagues with evaluation to achieve the purpose of the organisation or evaluation with their individual aspirations or both these strategies in combination.
- Provided appropriate encouragement
Participants made evaluation appealing by providing reassurance, feedback, suggestions, enthusiasm, and support, and promoting and praising any hint of success in appropriate ways. They also provided materials, resources and made connections when they could not personally assist.
- Incorporated conflict resolution strategies
Although there were minimal formal conflict resolution strategies put in place, participants recognised the signals associated with conflict. They negotiated through issues, facilitated ways to mutually solve problems and managed the specific needs of peers based on their understanding of their colleagues as individuals.
Some practical examples of the ways they promoted evaluation to their colleagues included:
- making a connection between evaluation reasoning and their co-workers’ real-life experiences to persuade them of the value of evaluation
- communicating in tailored ways to various people across the organisation, and translating evaluation terminology in meaningful ways
- asking questions to understand their co-workers’ perspectives and worldviews and encouraging others to see things from different perspectives
- sharing personal analogies and stories to make connections between individuals, evaluation and the vision for the organisation
- taking many opportunities to prompt conversational topics about evaluation.
The participants’ strategies may be useful within an organisation to stimulate ideas, support self-reflection, or discuss the applicability of evaluation with colleagues. For external evaluators who may not have opportunities to develop relationships or understand the nuances of the internal dynamics, they may need to engage the support of individuals who can enact these strategies.
For those interested in reading more of these practical examples, my research gate page includes a slide pack that includes a bank of their examples: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Alison-Rogers/research. A presentation I gave for the AES Victorian Regional Branch on this topic can also be found on the AES YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLGFBgoBSvQ
My name is Dr Alison Rogers and my doctoral research with the Centre for Program Evaluation at the University of Melbourne involved interviewing 17 people who champion evaluation in Australian non-profit organisations, and undertaking case studies with 4 of those participants. I currently hold an honorary research fellow position with the Centre for Program Evaluation.