As an ATE project, you and your team collect a lot of data: You complete the annual monitoring survey, you work with your evaluator to measure outcomes, you may even track your participants longitudinally in order to learn how they integrate their experiences into their lives. As overwhelming as it may seem at times to manage all the data collection logistics and report writing, these data are important to telling the story of your project and the ATE program. Developing a culture of evaluation in your project and your organization can help to meaningfully put these data to use.
Fostering a culture of evaluation in your project means that evaluation practices are not disconnected from program planning, implementation, and reporting. You’re thinking of evaluation in planning project activities and looking for ways to use data to reflect on and improve your work. During implementation, you consult your evaluator regularly so that you can hear what they’re learning from the data collection, and ensure that they know what’s new in the project. And at analysis and reporting times, you’re ensuring that the right people are thinking about how to use the evaluation findings to make improvements and demonstrate your project’s value to important stakeholder audiences. You and your team are reflecting on how the evaluation went and what can be improved. In a project that has an “evaluation culture,” evaluators are partners, collecting important information to inform decision making.
A great example of evaluators-as partners came from an NSF PI who shared that he regularly talks with his evaluator, peer-to-peer, about the state of the field, not just about his particular project. He wants to now what his evaluator is learning about practice in the field from other projects, workshops, conferences and meetings, and he uses these insights to help him reflect on his own work.