Having found this Blog, you came here for one of a few reasons:
- You are interested in evaluation and the idea of an Evaluation Evangelist excited you.
- You met me or one of the group excited by evaluation and heard about the site and thought you might take a look.
- You followed the link from the Missouri Foundation for Health's website to my Blog.
- Google hiccuped and your search brought you here versus whatever you were searching for.
Hopefully, having found this, you will find some information of interest. As this is the first post on this Blog, I'm not sure what fruit this experiment will bear, but expect this to be worth both our whiles.
With the caveats above, let's delve into this further shall we?
What is an Evaluation Evangelist? To answer that, we need to discuss what is Evaluation and what is an Evangelist. There are long dissertations tied to both terms and at some point, I'll probably edit this posting to incorporate links to good descriptors, but for now let's go with a working definition.
Evangelist - Two "definitions" I like can be found here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelist: Namely, in the religious connotation - a Christian [in my case an Evaluator] that explains his or her beliefs to a non-Christian [or in my case folks not yet versed in Evaluation] and thereby participates in Evangelism [attempting to convert people]. The second definition secularizes the "role" of an Evangelist by describing one as a person who enthusiastically promotes or supports something. Apple (http://apple.com) has had a group of individuals who held the actual title. In my case, the title is a commentary bestowed upon me by co-workers and others in the Evaluation field.
Speaking of Evaluation - There are probably a million different definitions for the term. However, the best version I like is something to the effect of; a systematic method of assessing something. Beyond that, there are discussions about the notion of whether an evaluation exists if there is an assessment of value (focus on outcomes of the project), what minimum point of rigor in methodology constitutes an evaluation, who needs to be involved in the process, and on and on and on. In reality, it seems that globally, we all have different viewpoints on what constitutes evaluation and frankly, I do not consider myself a part of any real distinctive camp - except one... I believe that an evaluation should be "theory-driven". In other words, those things we do are intended in some manner to affect an outcome. Put more simply, we do stuff because we want something to happen. When I turn the key of the starter of my car, I'm doing so because I want the car to start. There is a direct and perhaps a series of indirect outcomes of my action. But, I did what I did for a reason. Theory-driven evaluation is the idea that the actors, the evaluator, and all other stakeholders (people interested and invested in the project or action) are expecting something to come of the action and are looking for the "impact" of the action. Now, there are times that we do not measure the "impact" - usually because it is expected to occur much later. Other times, a description of the actions are important to all interested parties. But, my focus is on the idea that while we might only focus measurement on the actions and their produced outputs (products), we need to recognize the connection with the eventual outcomes (impacts). Using my example of turning the key - I can describe the amount of torque I use to turn the key, or for that matter, the process of finding and inserting the key... From a car design perspective, these are important things to measure - but the reason the key slot is there and the starter mechanism is to get that car started.
I'll speak more on the topic in a later post. In the mean time, John Gargani has an interesting commentary on the impact of a less than systematic assessment and how theory needs to play a role in some manner - http://gcoinc.wordpress.com/2009/03/13/data-free-evaluation/#more-161.
Returning to a little about me - my true role and title is Director of Evaluation for the Missouri Foundation for Health (http://mffh.org). The Foundation funds programs and projects focused on improving the health of Missouri's uninsured, underinsured, and underserved. I have oversight for evaluation for the Foundation, which means that I shape policy around evaluation as well as work with our contracted evaluators. I also have the occasional opportunity to conduct my own evaluations.
In the next series of posts, you will learn more about the policies we have enacted and how we have implemented them both within the Foundation and in support of the nonprofit community in Missouri.
Additionally, as you follow this Blog or catch a Twitter or Facebook comment, it is my fervent hope that you grow to love Evaluation as much as I do.