Evaluation Family Reunion: Why I Attended #Eval17

Fall is my favorite time of the year. The air becomes crisp and cool, and the leaves in New England turn vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. I enjoy running and hiking through the woods with leaves crunching beneath my feet and later cozying up on the couch with a good book and a hot cup of tea.

Fall also means it’s time for the annual meeting of the American Evaluation Association, or what I like to refer to as the evaluation family reunion. The event provides time for networking, learning, and reflecting so it is timely that this year the conference theme was “From Learning to Action.”

Last year I provided an overview of trends that emerged during the conference. Many of those themes (design, databases, evaluation capacity building, cultural responsiveness, and communication) surfaced this year as well. Thus, instead of talking about trends again, below are three reasons I continue to return to the conference each year.

1. Community

Outside of the annual conference, AEA offers opportunities for new and established evaluators to be actively engaged in the professional organization. Monthly webinars, topical interest groups, and the AEA365 blog provide different inroads for members to learn and engage with one another. Each Fall, over 4000 evaluators and evaluation-minded professionals gather together for the conference.

This year was my third time attending the American Evaluation Association conference and yet it feels like I have been a part of the evaluation community for decades. As a young professional it can sometimes feel daunting to navigate and explore new opportunities. The encouragement I have received both during and between conferences from established evaluators is remarkable. For example, I have conversed with current and past organization presidents and attended social gatherings with leaders in the field. This year I even had lunch with folks I had only previously interacted with on Twitter.

AEA is my professional home and I am so grateful to have found this group of passionate people. I believe the welcoming and supportive environment is what makes AEA and its members truly exceptional. I mean, really, at what other conferences can an introvert like myself leave feeling invigorated and inspired rather than completely depleted after three full days of intense networking?

2. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

I came to the evaluation field through social work and public health so diversity, equity, and inclusion have been an integral part of my training and career. Each year I continue to learn from my evaluation colleagues about how to address, discuss, and incorporate DEI into my work. I am grateful that so many of my evaluation colleagues are willing to have tough conversations about DEI and to challenge and support each other as we learn and grow.

While the AEA Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation provides a starting point for evaluators, it is the daily conversations and action on the ground in the field that will create change. Together we can disrupt racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, and other forms of privilege.

Here are a few of the examples that inspired me at this year’s conference:

  • Thursday’s plenary provided an overview of AEA’s Dialogues on Race and Class and demonstrated how programs and policies can perpetuate racism and classism
  • The Improve Group shared an example of how a nontraditional logic model can better align evaluation with an organization’s values, mission, and symbols
  • Tom Archibald demonstrated cultural humility by acknowledging white and male privilege while accepting his AEA new evaluator award
  • On Twitter, Nicole Bowman raised the concern that many past and future AEA conferences are held in towns with Indian and race-based mascots and asked how the organization will live up to next year’s theme and “speak truth to power”

Wondering how your beliefs about gender, race, and other topics may be impacting your evaluation work? Check out Harvard University’s Project Implicit Social Attitudes.

3. Authenticity

In my experience, the people I have met through AEA set egos and personal agendas aside in favor of community. Members have shared stories of their path to evaluation, what inspires them, and what challenges they experience. For example, during the past few conferences, AEA has held a learning from failures session where established leaders in the field share lessons learned during their careers.

The learning from failure session is one of my favorite parts of the conference because it showcases vulnerability and humility. I couldn’t attend this session this year because I was presenting at the same time, which was incredibly disappointing. However, just knowing that folks like Michael Quinn Patton, Rakesh Mohan, Stephanie Evergreen, and Kylie Hutchinson willingly and openly talked about their experiences helps me remember that evaluation is not about perfection, it is about improvement.

Need a few more learning from failure stories for inspiration between AEA conferences? Check out the Failure Lab.

So there you have it. My top three reasons for calling AEA my professional home are the community, attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and authenticity. Plus, I got an “I Likert you a lot” pin and a dataviz temporary tattoo, which basically solidifies the fact that AEA and its members are awesome.

Check out what other attendees have said about their time at #Eval17:

Now it’s your turn to share. Why did you attend #Eval17 and what did you learn?

Design for Non-Designers

Whether you identify as a designer or a non-designer, I think we can all agree that we are living in an era where short and easily digestible materials are increasingly preferable to dense reports. We have recently seen renewed interest in the field of data visualization, with formats such as infographics and one-pagers in high demand. At the same time, many organizations have limited funding and training opportunities available to purchase and learn design programs. Fortunately, there are a number of free and low-cost tools available online with equally low learning curves, allowing both designers and non-designers to create polished products. Examples of these include Canva, Piktochart, and Visme.

I recently held a live demo of one of these tools, Canva, at a conference. Below is a review of what I discussed (download the one-pager here).

What is Canva?

Canva is an online graphic design tool created for both designers and non-designers. The company prides itself on its easy drag and drop features, with a significantly lower learning curve than traditional design programs. Canva is currently available on the web, iPhone, and iPad. And best of all, your graphics are kept private unless you choose to share them publicly.

How Does Canva Work?

Like most of the tools mentioned above, Canva operates through drag and drop features that can be customized to your liking. For example, you can upload images, insert icons, create charts, change colors and fonts, and move and resize visual elements.

Designs can be created using a simple four-part process:

  • Choose a design category
  • Select a template
  • Customize the visual elements
  • Share electronically or print the design

Check out this introductory video to see Canva in action!

What Can I Create?

There are many different template categories in Canva so you are sure to find something that will meet your needs. Templates that I use regularly include infographics, presentations, magazines, and social media images. Other options include posters, flyers, invitations, business cards, and resumes.

Once you create your design, you can share it on social media, embed it on a website, or send a link to collaborators to view or edit. You can also download the files in different formats (jpeg, png, pdf) to print or include in a PowerPoint presentation.

How Much Does Canva Cost?

The basic program is my favorite price – free! And unlike some programs, the free version is actually very comprehensive. If you are looking for more functionality you can purchase Canva for Work, which is still affordable at around $100/year. Canva at Work allows you to load and store your organization’s colors and fonts ready to be used with templates. You can also more easily resize designs, create folders to organize your designs, and collaborate with other team members. Nonprofits can access Canva for Work for free with proof of 501(c)3 status. Visit their website to compare the different options and prices.

So whether you consider yourself a seasoned designer or you are just starting out, there are many tools available for you to explore. I encourage and challenge you to explore one of the free tools mentioned above (Canva, Piktochart, Visme) to see which one you like the best. You don’t have to start out with anything too fancy. Create a birthday card for a friend or overlay a picture with your favorite quote. Good luck and happy designing!

Download my one-page handout about Canva: Intro to Canva Handout (Grim, 2017)

 

 

 

Why I Marched: Social Worker for Social Justice, Evaluator for Equality

On January 21, 2017, I joined people marching on every continent to show up and stand up for human rights. The Women’s March is estimated to be the biggest protest in US History. Yet, one question I continue to be asked is, why march?  The Women’s March on Washington’s Unity Principles outline the premise for the march. This was not a single issue event unless, of course, that single issue was human rights.

The Women’s March was much bigger than any one person, one party, or one issue. The event marked a momentous occasion, bringing together and honoring diversity across our nation and the world. While we might not all agree on individual policies, we came together in solidarity to demand “the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”

Why I Marched

I marched because I’m a social worker for social justice.
Because I’m an evaluator for equality.
Because everyone deserves access to human rights, health care, and housing.
Because I want to use my privilege for peace not power.
Because everyone has the right to control their body.
Because we all deserve respect.

I marched to show others that discrimination is abominable.
That rape culture is unacceptable.
That abuse is unconscionable.
That homelessness is preventable.
That love is love is love.

I marched for anyone who’s ever been told that they are not enough.
That their body is a commodity.
That their voice is not welcome.
That they will never achieve greatness.

I marched to show others that evidence matters.
That the only alternative to fact is fiction.
That honesty and transparency are important.

I marched because I believe that we are stronger together.
That kindness and compassion are not outliers.

I marched because I could.

Stronger Together

The forebearers of my family and of so many other families forged the way for me to use my voice to demand change, community, and compassion. I am grateful to have been a part of this moment in history. Yet I am cognizant that I was afforded this opportunity because of my privilege. I had the privilege to have the weekend off of work to spend a day marching, protesting, and rallying for social justice. I had the privilege of owning a personal vehicle to transport me to the event. I had the privilege of not worrying about being targeted because of the color of my skin or to be concerned about being apprehended and questioned because of my religion or my citizenship. To march feeling safe was a privilege.

It is my hope that we all continue to explore our privilege, beliefs, and values. That we encourage each other to speak and to listen – to build bridges and communities, not walls and cliques. As Brene Brown wrote, “Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘you’re not alone.’”

womensmarch-1

On January 21st we showed up and we stood together. This is not the end or a sprint. It’s the beginning of a new marathon. We honored those who came before us – those who were recognized and those who were silenced.

I see you, I hear you, I stand beside you. Stronger together.

Evaluation Trends: Lessons from Eval16

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to best meet the needs of my clients. One of the ways to do this is by keeping up with innovations in the field of evaluation and other related fields. So naturally one of the questions I had been asking myself during the past year leading up to the 2016 American Evaluation Association Conference (#Eval16) was, “what are the current trends in evaluation?” Here are some themes that I’m hearing in my own work and those that I heard at Eval16:

  • Design
  • Databases
  • Evaluation Capacity Building
  • Cultural Responsiveness
  • Communication

Let’s look at each of these areas in more depth:

1. Design

Given that the theme for Eval16 was Evaluation+Design, it should come as no surprise that the field of evaluation is increasingly focusing on design. And while President John Gargani’s 2012 prediction that “evaluation reports will become obsolete” hasn’t quite happened yet, our reports are incorporating many design elements and are evolving into shorter, more visually engaging communications pieces.

That being said, it seems we’re not all fully on board with this design concept yet. When Heather Fleming, Founder of Catapult Designs, asked the plenary audience who considers themselves to be a designer, very few hands were raised. I can relate as I’ve personally struggled with adopting this title of designer. But we are designers! We design evaluations, we design data analysis plans, we design reports, we design communications materials. And with the tools leaders in the field like Stephanie Evergreen, Ann Emery, and Chris Lysy are developing, we will design even better materials. So in 2017 I hope more evaluators will embrace this role and play around with creativity in their work. Come on, say it with me, “I am a designer.”

2. Databases

Increasingly I’m being asked about what programs organizations can use to store their information in one central location. I’m hearing a lot of frustration from staff about funders requiring them to use certain databases as well as a lack of communication across data systems. This is making it difficult for organizations to understand, analyze, and use their data.

The State of Evaluation 2016 found that “55% of nonprofit organizations are using 4 or more data storage methods.” I mean, really, who can keep track of data in 4+ different databases – that’s confusing for everyone! So I think we’re going to begin to see even more community-based organizations moving toward customizable CRMs and databases like Salesforce and Efforts to Outcomes (ETO).

3. Evaluation Capacity Building

This year the phrase “evaluation capacity building” was included in the title of 20 AEA conference sessions while another 9 session titles mentioned “capacity building.” Evaluation capacity building (ECB) is not a new concept. In fact, the 2000 AEA Conference Presidential Theme was Evaluation Capacity Building. That being said, I think we still have more work to do around ECB.

  • “28% of nonprofit organizations exhibit promising evaluation capacity” (State of Evaluation 2016). This is the same percentage as reported in 2012.
  • 69% of respondents said their foundation invests too little in “improving grantee capacity for data collection or evaluation” (Benchmarking Foundation Evaluation Practices). That’s a lot of respondents reporting a need for ECB!

While there’s a lot of great work happening around ECB, very little information is being disseminated across consultants, organizations, and countries. I’m looking forward to seeing how the AEA Organizational Learning and Evaluation Capacity Building Topical Interest Group moves forward with the ECB Commons Project to help bridge these gaps. I’m hoping this next year brings more ECB collaborations and information sharing.

4. Cultural Responsiveness

The phrase “culturally responsive” was mentioned in the title of 16 AEA sessions while “cultural responsiveness” was mentioned in one other. Unfortunately, I think sometimes that’s where our attention to cultural responsiveness ends in evaluation – in the title or as a catch-phrase used in reports. But I noticed something different at Eval16 as compared to previous conferences; I heard colleagues talking about the intersection of culture and evaluation both inside and outside of conference sessions.

One of the things that really impacted me was when Dr. Nicole Bowman read A Cherokee Prayer during the Opening Plenary. The prayer reminded me of the importance of understanding the origins of our field of evaluation, the diverse backgrounds of our participants, our own backgrounds, as well as the history and culture of the organizations with which we work. As evaluators, we must continue to recognize, discuss, and be responsive to cultural context and the cultural diversity of individuals, communities, and organizations.

Want to learn more about cultural responsiveness in evaluation? Check out Continuing the Journey to Reposition Culture and Cultural Context in Evaluation Theory and Practice or read the AEA Statement on Cultural Competence in Evaluation.

5. Communication

The word “communication” was included in the title of 11 conference sessions. This is not surprising since our role as evaluators requires us to communicate with many different entities, including participants, staff, media, policymakers, foundations. It’s important for our field to understand how to target messages to different audiences and to deliver findings in captivating in innovative ways (see #1 Design).

However, I think the inclusion of communication in the sessions this year speaks to something deeper. The sessions didn’t just focus on how to communicate, they focused on intentional and transparent communication. They encouraged vulnerability (want to learn more about vulnerability? Check out Brene Brown’s work!).

  • John Gargani coined the word “Breart” to describe the need to think with both our brains and our hearts in evaluation
  • Michael Quinn Patton encouraged attendees to walk the talk of learning from failure by doing it ourselves
  • Stephanie Evergreen talked about embracing and learning from your evaluation failures saying, “the only way out is through” and to get over your fear, you have to “fail big, often, and in front of other people”
  • Sharon Rallis discussed the important of trust in evaluation and how one way to build trust is to have the confidence and willingness to be vulnerable

So there you have it. I think we’re going to see and hear a lot more about design, databases, evaluation capacity building, cultural responsiveness, and communication/vulnerability as the field of evaluation grows and evolves.

Now it’s your turn, what trends are you seeing in your own work? Share your insights in the comments and on social media.

Thinking Like an Evaluator: 2016 Election Edition

As a public health social worker, I became interested in the field of evaluation because I saw an opportunity to use data to inform programs and policies. Not surprisingly, I geek out over elections, making sure to do my research on each candidate and their policy platform. Twenty-four hours ago, like many of you, I cast my vote in a historic election, knowing that whatever the outcome, we would be entering a new phase for our country.

The people have spoken, the data is in, and, America, we have a problem. In evaluation terms, we ignored the early warning signs. We ignored the indicators on the dashboard. We created a predictive model that failed. We experienced an unanticipated outcome.

Today I’m hearing a lot of different reactions to the results, one of which is that people are planning to leave the country. So many people, in fact, that Canada’s immigration website crashed last night as the results were being processed. When we experience unanticipated or negative outcomes in an evaluation, we don’t run and hide, we explore. We ask ourselves and those involved questions like,

  • What contributed to the results of the election?
  • What are the socio-economic-political factors that influenced the outcome?
  • What can we learn from this experience?
  • What are the anticipated and unanticipated effects of this outcome?
  • What alternative solutions might be able to address this problem?

So, America, it’s time to explore and evaluate not run and hide. Regardless of your political affiliation, this outcome is unacceptable and horrific. Think about it, according to the popular vote, half of those who voted supported a candidate who has continuously and unabashedly demonstrated a disregard for the foundational values of our country.

My first reactions when I explore are that I’m saddened, disheartened, and concerned that the results indicate this phase is not progress but misogyny, sexism, racism, xenophobia, and hate. I’m scared and shaken to my core. I fear for my safety, security, and health while also recognizing the privilege that I have based on the different identities I hold. I worry about my friends and family and those I have yet to meet whose basic human rights are going to be taken away. I fear for future generations who’s wellbeing we’re forecasting with each of our decisions. Have we learned nothing from history?

And I want to stay in the comfort of my bed and hide. But progress and change don’t happen in the comfort zone. This is our moment. We have to get up and show up. We have to lean on each other and figure out how to move forward. We have to be unrelenting advocates for social justice. We have to think like evaluators. It’s time to get curious. Blame and hate have no place in this conversation, they will not bring progress. We have to come together as communities and as a country and practice understanding, kindness, and love. So in the words of Glennon Doyle Melton, “carry on, warriors” – let your light shine in the darkness.