Working with an external evaluator can be intimidating if you don’t know what to expect. As an external evaluator, my purpose is to provide an outside perspective to support and strengthen your project. The following tips can help you select and build a relationship with your external evaluator.

1.      Selecting an Evaluator

Know your parameters and possibilities. Consider what you have to do for your evaluation, as well as what else you would like to get from your evaluation.

Clarity is key. Clearly communicate your project goals and budget parameters to prospective evaluators through the RFP or in initial conversations. Be open about your expectations, and explore your potential evaluator’s creativity and value-adds. To ensure you have a shared vision, discuss their evaluation philosophy and strategies for building rapport with project teams.

2.      During the Evaluation

Meet early and often with your evaluator. I suggest meeting with your evaluator at least quarterly throughout your grant. More often may be helpful, especially early in the grant or whenever things are moving quickly. This will help your evaluator build an understanding of your project and track your implementation progress. Regular communication will also help develop your relationship and establish mutual trust.

Be up-front about success factors, obstacles, and strategies. Your evaluation will only be useful if it contains an accurate and full reflection of your project. While emphasizing successes is natural, acknowledging challenges allows your evaluator to offer recommendations that genuinely propel your work forward. The more trust you build with your evaluator through regular communication, the easier this will be!

Recognize and leverage respective strengths. External evaluators bring fresh outside perspectives to your project. We provide recommendations based on best practices and experience with other PIs or institutions. Our expertise is in data collection and analysis, helping you understand your project’s outcomes. You bring intimate insider knowledge and context regarding your project, your institution, and your students. You are also the expert regarding your specific subject area (though your evaluator may bring some knowledge from similar past projects!). Our different strengths complement each other and help strengthen the evaluation and your project.

Actively review evaluation reports and apply learnings. Don’t let your evaluation reports sit on the (digital) shelf! Read and engage with your evaluation reports to make the most of your evaluation. Discuss them with your evaluator. Was there anything surprising in your report? How might you incorporate your evaluator’s feedback and recommendations? How can you use the findings to continuously improve your project? Reflect on this in your own annual report!

3.      After Your Project 

If you apply for additional grants, consider hiring the same evaluator – if you’re happy with their services, of course! Working with the same evaluator can enhance future evaluations, as the evaluator can build on their understanding of your work and the relationship and trust you’ve already established. At the same time, don’t be afraid to look for a new evaluator if you want a fresh perspective!

About the Authors

Maureen Hoffman

Maureen Hoffman box with arrow

Senior Consultant, TPMA

Maureen is a Senior Consultant for Community Impact at TPMA. She serves as an external evaluator for a variety of clients, including educational institutions, non-profits, and governmental agencies, in areas of education, workforce, and public health. Dr. Hoffmann is passionate about helping organizations translate data into clear insights that drive continuous improvement and decision making. She holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology & Linguistics.

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