At EvaluATE, evaluation is a shared responsibility. We have a wonderful external evaluator, Dr. Lana Rucks, with whom we meet a few times a year in person and talk to on the phone about every other month. Dr. Rucks is responsible for determining our center’s mid- and long-term impact on the individuals who engage with us and on the ATE projects they influence. We supplement her external evaluation with surveys of workshop and webinar participants to obtain their immediate feedback on our activities. In addition, we carefully track the extent to which we are reaching our intended audiences. But for our team, evaluation is not just about the formal activities related to data collection and analysis. It’s how we do our work on a daily basis. Here are some examples:

  • Everyone gives and gets constructive criticism. Every presentation, webinar, newsletter article, or other product we create gets reviewed by the whole team. This improves our final products, whether it means catching embarrassing typos, completely revamping a presentation to improve its relevance, or going back to the drawing board. We all have thick skins and understand that criticism is not personal; it’s essential to high-quality work.
  • We are willing to admit when something’s not working or when we’ve bit off more than we can chew. We all realize it’s better to scrap an idea early and refocus rather than push it to completion with mediocre results.
  • We look backward when moving forward. For example, when we begin developing a new webinar, we review the feedback from the previous one to determine what our audiences perceived as its strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps the most painful, yet valuable exercise is watching the recording of a prior webinar together, stopping to note what really worked and what didn’t— from the details of audio quality to the level of audience participation.
  • We engage our advisors. Getting an external perspective on our work is invaluable. They ask us tough questions and cause us to check our assumptions.
  • We use data every day. Whether determining which social media strategies are most effective or identifying which subgroups within our ATE constituency need more attention, we use the data we have in hand to inform decisions about our operations and priorities.
  • We use our mission as a compass to plot our path forward. We are faced with myriad opportunities in the work that we do as a resource center. We consider options in terms of their potential to advance our mission. That keeps us focused and ensures that resources are expended on mission-critical efforts.

Integrating these and other evaluative activities and perspectives into our daily work gives us better results, as apparent in our formal evaluation results. Importantly, we share a belief that excellence is never achieved—it is something we continually strive for. What we did yesterday may have been pretty good, but we believe we can do better tomorrow.

As you plan your evaluation for this year, consider things you can do with your team to critique and improve your work on an ongoing basis.

About the Authors

Jason Burkhardt

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EvaluATE Blog Editor

Jason is currently a project manager at the Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University. He is also a PhD student in the Interdisciplinary PhD in evaluation program. He enjoys music, art, and the finer things in life.

Corey Smith

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Doctoral Associate, The Evaluation Center

Corey Smith is a doctoral associate with EvaluATE. He is currently working on his Ph.D. in evaluation at Western Michigan University. His primary responsibilities with EvaluATE are to administer and manage the annual ATE survey, analyze data collected through that survey and produce reports, data snapshots and publications based on that data. PI’s may recognize his name from the flurry of nagging emails he sends about the annual survey each January through March.

Lori Wingate

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Executive Director, The Evaluation Center, Western Michigan University

Lori has a Ph.D. in evaluation and more than 20 years of experience in the field of program evaluation. She is co-principal investigator of EvaluATE and leads and a variety of evaluation projects at WMU focused on STEM education, health, and higher education initiatives. Dr. Wingate has led numerous webinars and workshops on evaluation in a variety of contexts, including CDC University and the American Evaluation Association Summer Evaluation Institute. She is an associate member of the graduate faculty at WMU.

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Nation Science Foundation Logo EvaluATE is supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number 1841783. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed on this site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.