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Foundation Operations: Evaluation-> Managing External Evaluators-> Selecting an Evaluator

How do I find and select an evaluator?

The first place many people look for evaluators is a university’s community health department. An advantage to using a university based evaluator is that they are usually receiving a full time salary, so may charge less than consultants to do the work. University evaluators can also spend a lot of time on the project and have graduate students to help collect data and work on the evaluation. A disadvantage of using university based evaluators involves the issue of data ownership – university faculty will expect to publish the evaluation they conduct for you. If your foundation is not interested in having its evaluation published, do not choose a university evaluator. Private evaluation firms depend on client satisfaction and may be more flexible in meeting a foundation’s changing needs and have fewer ownership issues. The main disadvantage to using private evaluation firms and consultants is that may be more expensive and sometimes charge by the hour.

It is very important to interview potential evaluators to ensure that you are comfortable with their style and approach as they will be representing your foundation in the community. Determine if they have experience working with the types of organizations and communities you fund, strong facilitation skills, ability to explain complicated ideas to a general audience, and any necessary second language. Make sure that they will be easily understood by all who will be involved.

Differences in professions, educational backgrounds, and individual attributes such as gender, race, and culture can affect the relationship between evaluators and foundation staff. The following are potential areas for tensions after an evaluation begins, therefore, they are important for evaluators and foundation staff to be clear about at the beginning of their relationship. A clear understanding about these areas will also help evaluators determine the degree to which they have to be educators about evaluation and facilitators of stakeholder engagement beyond just collecting, analyzing, and reporting data:

  • differences or similarities in their philosophies about evaluation (for example, participatory processes, use and beneficiaries of the findings, data ownership, practice of cross-cultural competence);

  • the foundation leadership and staff’s past experiences with evaluations and evaluators;

  • both parties’ attitudes about engaging diverse stakeholders, including grantees, in the evaluation design and planning process;

  • the foundation staff’s desire to share the evaluation findings or some portion of the findings (for example, executive summaries) with diverse stakeholders, including grantees;

  • both parties’ willingness to make mid-course adjustments to the evaluation process;

  • the foundation leadership and staff’s commitment to reflect on and learn from the evaluation findings, whether the findings were positive or negative;

  • expectations of the foundation’s board about the evaluation; and

  • lines of communication, reporting, and determining who are the final decision-makers.

Contributed by Nancy Csuti, The Colorado Trust and Kien Lee, Association for the Study and Development of Community, 05/14/2007.

 

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