Saving Starfish, or Why Evaluators Are Optimists

Everyone knows the story.

It's a great story about perseverance and compassion, about the small but tangible impacts we can have even when faced with what seems like an insurmountable problem. In the difficult world of delivering social interventions, it is stories and ideas like these that get people out of bed and into work every day—the knowledge that whatever else is happening in the world, we can make a positive change for someone.

As an evaluator, I do count myself among those whose work is dedicated toward improving the lives of others. While evaluation may seem a few steps removed from the difficult and important work of direct service delivery, if you speak to evaluators you will find that most of us are not in it just because we love numbers and metrics so very much. Sure, lots of us enjoy a good spreadsheet, but we do what we do because we sincerely believe that our work is valuable and necessary and makes a difference to the organizations and people we support, and therefore to the organizations and people they support. 'Helping people who help people' is my professional motto for a reason.

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My Evaluator Origin Story

Officially blogging from my new office space! A big upgrade for me and a momentous step forward in my journey as a professional evaluator. It’s bitty and beautiful and all mine. And will hopefully soon have curtains!

Moving forward always makes me want to look backward as well, to see how far I’ve come and what I’ve learned along the way. (Must be the evaluator in me.) One of the things I’ve realized recently is how much farther back my journey goes than I thought, and how I was gravitating toward the path of program evaluation well before I even knew what it was or how to do it.

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Advice for Emerging Evaluators

It's nerve-wracking to be approached by a recent grad or student asking my advice on how to break into the evaluation field. I want to look around and see if they're really talking to someone else, someone who's been doing this forever who knows exactly what they're talking about, not someone in the midst of breaking into the field themselves.

Then I remind myself that no one ever knows exactly what they're talking about, especially in a field as dynamic and rapidly growing as evaluation. And while I may still be at the start of what I hope will be a long career, that also gives me an excellent perspective on things that in five or twenty years I may have forgotten about or may no longer be relevant. So none of this advice comes with a solid guarantee of success, but it does come with my absolute promise that you're not the only one using it.

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Better Program Evaluation Through Frontline Staff Engagement

Last week I had a great opportunity to give a talk at the CES-BCY 2015 Evaluation Conference on the topic of engaging service delivery staff in evaluation, specifically in the context of non-profits. The talk was well attended and followed up with several interesting questions. More than one person also told me they wanted to attend the presentation but couldn't because of other talks scheduled at the same time.

So for people who weren't able to attend either the talk or the conference itself, I have uploaded the slides (link opens PDF file). Because the slides weren't meant to stand alone and may be a little cryptic without context, I'm also recapping my talk here on the blog.

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