All ATE projects are required to have an evaluation of their work and it is expected that results will be included in annual reports to NSF. But if that’s all a project is using its evaluation for, it’s probably not bringing a lot of value to the grant work. In our webinar, The Nuts and Bolts of ATE Evaluation Reporting, we presented ways evaluation results can be used beyond reporting to NSF. In this article, we share ways to use evaluation results for project improvement. For more details on other uses, check out the segment of the webinar at http://bit.ly/webinar-clip.
Using evaluation results to help improve your project requires more than just accepting the evaluator’s recommendations. Project team members should take time to delve into the evaluation data on their own. For example, read every comment in your qualitative data. Although you should avoid getting caught up in the less favorable remarks, they can be a valuable source of information about ways you might improve your work. Take time to consider the remarks that surprise you—they may reveal a blind spot that needs to be investigated. But don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for the stuff you’re already getting right.
Although it’s important to find out if a project is effective overall, it can be very revealing to disaggregate by participant characteristics, such as by gender, age, discipline, enrollment status, or other factors. If you find out that some groups are getting more out of their experience with the project than others, you have an opportunity to adjust what you’re doing to better meet your intended audience’s needs.
The single most important thing you can do to maximize an evaluation’s potential to bring value to your project is to make time to meet with your evaluator, review results with your project colleagues and advisors, and make decisions about how to move forward based on findings. ATE grantees are awarded about $60 million annually by the federal government. We have an ethical obligation to be self-critical, use all available information sources to assess progress and opportunities for improvement, and utilize project evaluations to help us achieve excellence in all aspects of our work.