Hello! I am Valerie Marshall, I work on a range of projects at The Evaluation Center, including EvaluATE, where I serve as the administrator and analyst for the annual ATE Survey.

A cornerstone of evaluation is working with stakeholders. Stakeholders are individuals or groups who are part of an evaluation or are otherwise interested in its findings. They may be internal or external to the program being evaluated.

Stakeholders’ interests and involvement in evaluation activities may vary. But they are a key ingredient to evaluation success. They can provide critical insight into project activities and evaluation questions, serve as the gatekeepers to other stakeholders or data, and help determine if evaluation findings and recommendations are implemented.

Given their importance, identifying ways to build and nurture relationships with stakeholders is pivotal.

So the question is: how can you build relationships with evaluation stakeholders?

Below is a list of tips based on my own research and evaluation experience. This list is by no means exhaustive. If you are an ATE PI or evaluator, please join EvaluATE’s Slack community to continue the conversation and share some of your own tips!

Tip 1: Be intentional and adaptative about how you communicate. Not all stakeholders will prefer the same mode of communication. And how stakeholders want to communicate can change over the course a project’s lifecycle. In my experience, using communication styles and tools that align with stakeholders’ needs and preferences often results in greater engagement. So, ask stakeholders how they would like to communicate at various points throughout your work together.

Tip 2: Build rapport. ATE evaluator and fellow blogger George Chitiyo previously noted that building rapport with stakeholders can make them feel valued and, in turn, help lead to quality data. Rapport is defined as a friendly relationship that makes communication easier (Merriam-Webster). Chatting during “down time” in a videoconference, sharing helpful resources, and mentioning a lighthearted story are great ways to begin fostering a friendly relationship.

Tip 3: Support and maintain transparency. Communicate with stakeholders about what is being done, when, and why. This not only reduces confusion but also facilitates trust. Trust is pivotal to building  productive, healthy relationships with stakeholders. Providing project staff with a timeline of research or evaluation activities, giving regular progress updates, and meeting with stakeholders one-on-one or in small groups to answer questions or address concerns are all helpful ways to generate transparency.

Tip 4: Identify roles and responsibilities. When stakeholders know what is expected of them and how they can and cannot contribute to different aspects of a research or evaluation project, they can engage in a more meaningful way. The clarity generated from the process of outlining the roles and responsibilities of both stakeholders and research and evaluation staff can help reduce misunderstandings. At the beginning of a project, and as new staff and stakeholders join the project, make sure to review roles and expectations with everyone.

About the Authors

Valerie Marshall

Valerie Marshall box with arrow

Project Manager, The Evaluation Center, Western Michigan University

Valerie has served as a project manager at The Evaluation Center since August 2019. In this role, Valerie works on a variety of local, state, and federally funded evaluation and research projects, including EvaluATE. She is also a doctoral student in the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Evaluation program at Western Michigan University. Prior to The Evaluation Center, Valerie worked on research and evaluation projects focused on behavioral health, homelessness and poverty, and social policy in both private and non-profit sectors.

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