Beverly Parsons

Executive Director, InSites

Beverly Parsons is Executive Director of InSites, a non-profit research, evaluation, and planning organization based in Colorado and Washington State. She especially enjoys evaluating multi-site, multi-sector initiatives using a systems orientation. She works nationally and internationally in the areas of education, social services, health, and ecology. She has conducted many STEM education evaluations and served as the PI for two NSF evaluation capacity building grants. Beverly was the 2014 President of the American Evaluation Association. She holds a PhD in Educational Research and Evaluation, a BS in Medical Technology and a certificate in Sustainable Business.


Blog: Using a Systems Orientation in Your Evaluation

Posted on September 9, 2015 by  in Blog ()

Executive Director, InSites

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

In my earlier blog about CLIPs (Communities of Learning, Inquiry, and Practice), I mentioned that we adapted the CLIPs process to focus on building the capacity of evaluators to use a systems orientation in their evaluation. We called this one ECLIPS—Evaluation Communities of Learning, Inquiry, and Practice about Systems.1 The ECLIPS process built the capacity of evaluators of STEM education programs (mainly ITEST and ATE) to use a systems orientation in their evaluations. You can learn more about the ECLIPS process in Evaluation Communities of Learning, Inquiry, and Practice about Systems (ECLIPS) Approach and Webinar Example, which is posted on our InSites website.

In ECLIPS, STEM education evaluators learned and applied three systems concepts to evaluations they were engaged in. The concepts were (a) understanding a system as a configuration of interacting, interdependent parts that achieves something; (b) recognizing and distinguishing among organized, unorganized, and self-organizing system dynamics; and (c) identifying patterns within systems based on attending to a system’s boundaries, relationships, and perspectives. We found that evaluators could incorporate systems thinking into their evaluation, even if the evaluation was already underway.

Here are three articles that will give you more information about how to apply a systems orientation to evaluation. Keep an eye on our website because we are planning to introduce more ideas about a systems orientation to evaluation in the future.

Using Complexity Science Concepts When Designing System Interventions and Evaluations
This article provides an overview of basic concepts related to complex adaptive systems (CAS). This is a very useful concept. It has helped many of us evaluators better understand what to try to control and what to simply follow to understand a project’s natural evolving patterns.

ZIPPER: A Mnemonic for Systems-Based Evaluation
ZIPPER is a mnemonic that gives you the basic idea of what to think about when you are doing a systems-oriented evaluation. It starts with “Zooming in and out.” Check out the article to see the other five actions to enrich your evaluation through attention to the systems that provide the context for your ATE project.

Habits of a Systems Thinker
This graphic overview reminds us of how to think more systemically about our work.
These articles are available on the InSites website, along with examples of how ECLIPS members used a systems orientation in their evaluation work. Take a look at some examples from Karen Peterman, David Reider, and Ginger Fitzhugh.

I love talking about using a systems orientation in evaluation. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss these ideas further.

1 This work was funded as an exploratory study through a Promoting Research and Innovation in Methodologies for Evaluation (PRIME) grant from the National Science Foundation (#1118819).

Blog: Engaging Faculty in Evaluative Inquiry

Posted on September 2, 2015 by  in Blog ()

Executive Director, InSites

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

As the sun is rising here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, I want to draw your attention to an evaluation capacity building approach called CLIPs, which you may want to incorporate into an ATE evaluation. My colleagues and I developed the process through an NSF grant (grant #0335581), which has been used now in several community colleges.

We developed Communities of Learning, Inquiry, and Practice (CLIPs) at Bakersfield College in California. CLIPs are self-determined groups of faculty and staff who learn together about their professional practice by gathering and analyzing data about a topic of importance to them. For example, one CLIP investigated the question, “Do peer study groups enhance student learning?” Another CLIP asked, “What assessment methods are most effective in computer studies courses?” Yet another explored “Are students who take developmental education courses successful in subsequent courses?” You might be asking similar questions in an ATE evaluation.

Each CLIP consisted of three to seven faculty and staff with one person as the group facilitator. We set it up so CLIP members learned a basic evaluative inquiry process with three steps: (1) design the inquiry, (2) collect data, and (3) make meaning and shape practice.

Within a given CLIP, the members simultaneously answered important evaluative questions and built their capacity to collaboratively address issues about their work on an ongoing basis. This set the stage for continual renewal of their teaching practices and ongoing inquiry about instructional processes and student learning and success.

Click here for an overview video and modules about the CLIP process. They are available to you on our InSites website.

The seven modules feature video vignettes in which CLIP team facilitators and members share their CLIP experiences and observations. The modules include downloadable resources to support individual and collaborative inquiry. These include examples of CLIP documents and in-depth reference materials. Many of these resources may be useful to you in any evaluation work you are doing, whether or not you are using the CLIP process. For example, there is a tip sheet on conducting focus groups and another on writing questionnaires.

The process has been used in several other community colleges since it was developed and is also being used in a medical school situation.

All in all, CLIPs are a great way to embed evaluation into the learning process for faculty and accomplish many of your evaluation tasks. You can also read about the theory behind CLIPs and other information in an article in the OD Practitioner. That article, Evaluative Inquiry for Complex Times, can also be accessed through our website.