Newsletter: How can you make sure your evaluation meets the needs of multiple stakeholders?

Posted on October 1, 2015 by  in Newsletter () ()

Director of Research, The Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University

We talk a lot about “stakeholders” in evaluation. These are the folks who are involved in, affected by, or simply interested in the evaluation of your project.  But what these stakeholders want or need to know from the evaluation, the time they have available for the evaluation, and their level of interest are probably quite variable.  Here is a generic guide to types of ATE evaluation stakeholders, what they might need, and how to meet those needs.

Stakeholder groups What they might need Tips for meeting those needs
Project leaders (PI, co-PIs)
  • Information that will help you make improvements to the project as it is unfolding
  • Results you can include in your annual reports to NSF to demonstrate accountability and impact
Communicate your needs clearly to your evaluator, including when you need the information in order to make use of it.
Advisory committees or National Visiting Committees
  • Results from the evaluation that show whether the project is on track for meeting its goals, if changes in direction or operations are warranted
  • Summary information about the projects’ strengths and weaknesses
Many advisory committee members donate their time, so they probably aren’t interested in reading lengthy reports.  Provide a brief memo and/or short presentation at meetings with key findings and invite questions about the evaluation. Be forthcoming about strengths and weaknesses.
Participants who provide data for the evaluation
  • Access to reports where their information was used
  • Summaries of what actions were taken based on the information they needed to provide
The most important thing for this group is to demonstrate use of the information they provided.  You can share reports, but a personal message from project leaders along the lines of “we heard you and here is what we’re doing in response” is most valuable.
NSF program officers
  • Evidence that the project is on track for meeting its goals
  • Evidence of impact (not just what was done, but what difference the work is making)
  • Evidence that the project is using evaluation results to make improvements
Focus on Intellectual Merit (the intrinsic quality of the work and potential to advance knowledge) and Broader Impacts (the tangible benefits for individuals and progress toward desired societal outcomes). If you’re not sure about what your program officer needs from your evaluation, ask him or her for clarification.
College administrators (department chairs, deans, executives, etc.)
  • Results that demonstrate impact on students, faculty, institutional culture, infrastructure, and reputation.
Make full reports available upon request, but most busy administrators probably don’t have the time to read technical reports or need the fine-grained data points. Prepare memos or share presentations that focus on the information they’re most interested in.
Partners and collaborators
  • Information that helps them assess the return on the investment of their time or other resources
See above – like with college administrators, focus on providing the information most pertinent to this group.

In case you didn’t read between the lines—the underlying message here is to provide stakeholders with the information that is most relevant to their particular “stake” in your project. A good way to not meet their needs is to only send everyone a long, detailed technical report with every data point collected. It’s good to have a full report available for those who request it, but many simply won’t have the time or level of interest needed to consume that quantity of evaluative information about your project. Most importantly, don’t take our word as to what they might need: Ask them!

Not sure what stakeholders to involve in your evaluation or how? Check out our worksheet on Identifying Stakeholders and Their Roles in an Evaluation at (bit.ly/id-stake).