Monday, May 16, 2011

Exemplary Evaluation and Exemplary Evaluation Firms

I eagerly awaited the newest issue of AJE as my colleague Melanie Hwalek and her company SPEC Associates were to be featured.  After returning from a week of site visits in CENLA, there it was. (By the way CENLA is Central Louisiana, not Central Los Angeles - much less shopping - but LA doesn't have crawfish, does it?).

The article, "Aspects of Successful Evaluation Practice at an Established Private Evaluation Firm" by Paul Brandon, Nick Smith, and Melanie did not disappoint. Like many of my conversations with Melanie, I came away with multiple ideas about how to make my evaluation work more meaningful to my clients and myself, my firm more successful, and my clients more knowledgeable about evaluation.

While I highly suggest all evaluators read this article, it has interesting insights for those of us who consider ourselves evaluation consultants. Particularly interesting to me were the conditions Melanie identified as necessary for exemplary evaluation practice to occur. These include:

  1. Clients who seek to learn, change, and improve;
  2. Internal "evaluation champions" within client organizations who will support the conduct of evaluation studies and use of results;
  3. Effective feedback mechanisms from evaluators to clients so evaluation information is understood and used; and
  4. Trust between evaluators and client organizations.

Are there other conditions that need to be in place for exemplary evaluation to occur - whether on the evaluator side or client side?  Certainly evaluators must come with lots of skills - hard evaluation skills and soft evaluation skills (as Melanie notes, good evaluators listen more and talk less), but what other conditions should be in place?  

And, as a corollary, what conditions are necessary for a firm to be an exemplary evaluation firm?
The authors suggest that  organizational flexibility within the evaluation firm to take on more and/or different work (often by hiring subject experts) was critical to building this exemplary  evaluation practice. And there is definitely a culture of learning within Melanie's firm.  But what else is necessary?

Like a great red wine, SPEC Associates seems to have only gotten better with time, and I look forward to learning more from Melanie and her experiences.
Cheers my friend and a toast to many jobs done quite well!