The (Evaluation) Road Less Traveled

UntitledA few weeks back, my dear fried Julie and I did something we have been talking about for years. We spent the weekend in the North Georgia Mountains at the Hike Inn, a GA state park only accessible by foot. It is a 5 mile “moderate” trek to the Inn. http://hike-inn.com/ We have both reached that point where we want to take our lives back (any parents out there know what I mean?- sorry kids) and challenge ourselves personally and profesionally.

Like me, Julie is a consultant (she is a sofware engineer) and we have found over the years that even though we work in different areas, our processes and our relationships with clients are quite similar.

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We also both have a penchant for metaphor so we had fun on the way applying metaphors to our clients and our work. So here is Julie (above) next to a sign pointing the way. Naturally, the first thing we did was look for a sign, right? Though notice this sign says lodge. Now, you can get to the trail near the lodge but there is a much more direct trail right next to this sign to the left. (We found that sign on our way down. I thought this was pretty funny). So we spent ½ hour just trying to find the trail head. I told Julie this was similar to programs not doing the ground work for an evaluation (i.e. failing to design a program logic model or a startegic plan or in or case, having the map but not following it). When all else fails, read the directions….Untitled1

 

So, once we found the trail, we set off. The hike was a lovely jaunt through the woods and up and down (and up and down) the GA foot hills. So the first thing we learned right off the bat is something my son’s scout leaders said on a 10 mile hike of the lower Appalachian Trail, “Everyone is on their own hike.” I had to remind myself of that both going to the Inn and on our way down as folks of all ages passed us by. That was a bit discouraging. But the main point is to start on the path and get there. So we just went at our own pace. Programs are no different. You may not be the biggest program or the most well-funded, but it is important to start the journey or you will never “get there.” You do this by building your program’s organizational and evaluation capacity. Start with baby steps if you have too. There are plenty of free resources out there to get you started. Check them out on our website www.communityevaluationsolutions.com or at www.eval.org.

The Hike Inn 5-mile hike is pretty steep at times, so we had to stop every once in awhile and catch our breath. We kept ourselves motivated by setting goals (Let’s just make it to the next tree! Think benchmarks and indicators). Of course, the way to do this gracefully is to lean on your hiking stick and pretend you are surveying the vista.

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Evaluation work is the same way. It is not fruitful or even prudent to barrel on through. Its important to take a break and look at what your data is telling you about your program’s impact. If you don’t you might miss some pretty awesome sites (or findings) so stop every once in awhile and see where you are. Take a look at your data. Are you where you want your program to be? Are you where your program needs to be? If your program is not where you’d like, make an adjustment.

Besides, evaluation doesn’t really end, it just continues (ideally) wherever your conclusions lead.

Especially when innovation is the goal. Check out this AEA 365 blog by MQ Patton on Developmental Evaluation http://ow.ly/vjof6 .

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Untitled55If you’ve measured the right things, and the program is designed well, then sun will align perfectly and you’ll be able to tell your program’s success story. And if you don’t hit your mark, reevaluate what needs to be tweaked, either in your program or the evaluation. It’s all about learning and the journey. So adjust your plan and start walking.

 

 

 

 

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And if you need help, here are a few great resources to get you on your way. Logic Models http://www.wkkf.org/resource-directory/resource/2006/02/wk-kellogg-foundation-logic-model-development-guide Evaluation Planning http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/downloads/cdc-evaluation-workbook-508.pdf http://www.scribd.com/doc/194443946/Actionable-Evaluation-Basics-Getting-succinct-answers-to-the-most-important-questions-minibook Communicating Results and Data Visualization http://stephanieevergreen.com/blog/ http://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/publications/library/pdf/success_story_workbook.pdf

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