I remember, as a child, dutifully memorizing the life-cycles of frogs and butterflies. Now as an evaluator, I find myself participating in a work-related life-cycle of sorts too, though no need of painstaking memorization here:
Evaluation Planning –>Negotiating the plan –> Conducting the evaluation (negotiating this) –>Reporting –>Planning of future evaluations…–>(and the cycle continues)
While recently reading one of my program evaluation books, I was struck by the important role that facilitation plays in every stage of an evaluation’s life cycle. I am not just saying this because I have facilitated in the past.
Some might have a love-hate relationship with facilitation. But we cannot do program evaluation in a vacuum, without working with people, also known as our stakeholders—those who share a vested interest in our evaluations. Wherever people are concerned, facilitation is a valuable skill that we all use consciously or unconsciously.
In my experience, until this was pointed out to me in my reading, I did not realize that I was unconsciously using facilitation skills and also participating in facilitation led by a couple of my evaluation stakeholders. So whether we realize it or not, facilitation is important in the process of conducting evaluations.
Here are three reasons why, which I have gleaned from recent perusals of 1) Program Evaluation, by John Owen and Patricia Rogers and 2) John Bryson and Michael Patton’s chapter “Analyzing and Engaging Stakeholders” in Wholey and colleagues’ book Handbook of Practical Program Evaluation.
Facilitation During Evaluation Planning
Facilitation is central to the planning stages of an evaluation. Why? If you’re like me, I’d dislike doing an evaluation, knowing that it would never get used. We all want our work to count, to be useful.
One of the ways to help ensure that an evaluation gets used, is to involve your primary stakeholders in planning stages. And what better way to truly involve them, than to facilitate ongoing discussions with them in the planning stages of your evaluation. As I discussed in my previous post, use these discussions to mutually build a collective vision that guides and motivates as many of those around the table, as possible.
Facilitation During Evaluation Negotiation
Once your evaluation plan is ready to go, it’s time to negotiate the plan with your primary stakeholders. Negotiation also takes facilitation skills. Some of us might like the negotiation process more than others.
Either way, you may find it helpful during the negotiation process, to focus on working together and coming up with a revised plan that reduces the level of stress for the key stakeholders and key players of your evaluation.
However short or lengthy an evaluation might be, I like to think of my evaluation clients as co-workers. Facilitating your way through a bearable, if not pain-free negotiation process, helps lay the ground work for successful relationships with evaluation stakeholders and hopefully, ultimately, an evaluation that gets used.
Facilitation During Evaluation Reporting and Dissemination
Using facilitation skills before and during report-writing, will help engage your stakeholders in the reporting process. This will also help increase the likelihood that stakeholders will apply and use evaluation results.
The same applies to the stage of sharing evaluation results, that is dissemination. So how do we facilitate in ways that engage and provoke thought? As you might have answered, one way is to ask questions that draw your audience in.
In his book Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research, Richard Krueger recommends that evaluators write reports not with a general audience in mind, but with individuals in mind. Why not apply this to facilitation in the reporting stage?
Let’s tailor our reporting and facilitation according to what we know about the people that comprise our primary stakeholder group. In other words, facilitate with particular persons in mind, not a general audience.
For readers who are novice evaluators, does this article help? For my readers who are more experienced evaluators, how have facilitation skills helped you build a stronger evaluation?
Priya Small has extensive experience in collaborative evaluation planning, instrument design, data collection, grant writing and facilitation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. See her profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/priyasmall/