We as evaluators, all know that managing an evaluation is quite different from managing a scientific research project. Sure, we need to take due diligence in completing the basic inquiry tasks: deciding study questions/hypotheses; figuring out the strongest design, sampling plan, data collection methods and analysis strategies; and interpreting/reporting results. But evaluation’s purposes extend well beyond proving or disproving a research hypothesis. Evaluators must also focus on how the evaluation will lead to enlightenment and what role it plays in support of decision making. Evaluations can leave in place important processes that extend beyond the study itself, like data collection systems and changed organizational culture that places greater emphasis on data-informed decision making. Evaluations also exist within local and organizational political contexts, which are of less importance to academic and scientific research.
Very little has been written in the evaluation literature about evaluation management. Compton and Baizerman are the most prolific authors editing two issues of New Directions in Evaluation on the topic. They approach evaluation management from a theoretical perspective, discussing issues like the basic competencies of evaluation managers within different organizational contexts (2009) and the role of evaluation managers in advice giving (2012).
I would like to describe good evaluation management in terms of the actual tasks that an evaluation manager must excel in—what evaluation managers must be able to actually do. For this, I looked to the field of project management. There is a large body of literature about project management, and whole organizations, like the Project Management Institute, dedicated to the topic. Overlaying evaluation management onto the core skills of a project manager, here is the skill set I see as needed to effectively manage an evaluation:
- Writing an evaluation plan (including but not limited to descriptions of basic inquiry tasks)
- Creating evaluation timelines
- Writing contracts between the evaluation manager and various members of the evaluation team (if they are subcontractors), and with the client organization
- Completing the application for human subjects institutional review board (HSIRB) approval, if needed
- Creating evaluation budgets, including accurately estimating hours each person will need to devote to each task
- Generating or justifying billing rates of each member of the evaluation team
- Tracking expenditures to assure that the evaluation is completed within the agreed-upon budget
- Preparing a communications plan outlining who needs to be apprised of what information or involved in which decisions, how often and by what method
- Using appropriate verbal and nonverbal communication skills to assure that the evaluation not only gets done, but good relationships are maintained throughout
- Assuming leadership in guiding the evaluation to its completion
- Resolving the enormous number of conflicts that can arise both within the evaluation team and between the evaluators and the stakeholders
I think that this framing can provide practical guidance for what new evaluators need to know to effectively manage an evaluation and guidance for how veteran evaluators can organize their knowledge for practical sharing. I’d be interested in comments as to the comprehensiveness and appropriateness of this list…am I missing something?