You are excited to be working on a new grant proposal. You have a well-defined project objective, a solid plan to address the challenge at hand, a well-assembled team to execute the project, and a means for measuring your project’s outcomes. The missing ingredient is an evaluation plan for your project, and that means that you will need to retain the services of an evaluator!
New principal investigators often have limited prior experience with project evaluation, and identifying and contracting with an evaluator can be a question mark for many. Fortunately, there are resources to help and recommended practices to make these processes easier.
The first tip is to explore the grant agency requirements and your institution’s procurement policies regarding evaluation services. Federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) may accept a general evaluation plan written by the principal investigator, with agreement that an evaluator will be named later, or they may require the use of an external evaluator who is named in the proposal. Federal requirements can differ even within a single agency and may change from one year to the next. So it is important to be certain of the current program requirements.
Additionally, some institutions may require that project evaluation be conducted by independent third parties not affiliated with the college. Furthermore, depending on the size of the proposed project, and the scope of the evaluation plan, many colleges may have procurement policies that require a competitive request for quotes or bids for evaluator contracts. There may also be requirements that a request for bids must be publicly posted, and there may be rules dictating the minimum number of bids that must be received. Adhering to your school’s procurement policy may take several months to complete, so it is highly advisable to begin the search for an evaluator as early as possible.
The American Evaluation Association has a helpful website that includes a Find an Evaluator page, which can be used to search for evaluators by location. AEA members can also post a request for evaluator services to solicit bids. The EvaluATE website lists information specific to the NSF Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program and maintains a List of Current ATE Evaluators that may serve as a good starting point for identifying prospective evaluators.
When soliciting bids, it is advisable to create a detailed request that provides a summary of the project, a description of the services you are seeking, and specifies the information that you would like applicants to provide. At a minimum, you will want to request a copy of the evaluator’s CV and biosketch, and a description of their prior evaluation work.
If your institution requires you to entertain multiple bids, it is a good idea to develop a rubric that you can use to judge the bids that you receive. In most cases, you will not want to restrict yourself to accepting the lowest bid that is submitted. Instead, it is in the best interest of your project to make a selection based on both the experience and the qualifications of the prospective evaluator candidate, and on the perceived value of the services they can provide. In our past experience, we have found that hourly rates for evaluator services can vary by as much as 400%, so if a sufficiently large pool of bids are received, this can help to make sure that quoted rates are reasonable.