A number of years ago, the typical Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Principal Investigator (PI) deemed evaluation a necessary evil. As a PI, I recall struggling even to find an evaluator who appeared to have reasonable credentials. I viewed evaluation as something you had to have in a proposal to get funded.
Having transitioned from the PI role to being an evaluator myself, I now appreciate how evaluation can add value to a project. I also know a lot more about how to find an evaluator and negotiate the terms of the evaluation contract.
Today, PIs typically identify evaluators through networking and sometimes use evaluator directories, such as the one maintained by EvaluATE at ATE Central. You can call colleagues and ask them to identify someone they trust and can recommend with confidence. If you don’t know anyone yet, start your networking by contacting an ATE center PI using the map at atecentral.net. Do this at least three months before the proposal submission date (i.e., now). When you approach an evaluator, ask for a résumé, references, and a work sample or two. Review their qualifications to be sure the proposal’s reviewers will perceive them as a credentialed evaluator.
Second, here is an important question many PIs ask: “Once you have identified the evaluator, can you expect them to write the evaluation section of your proposal for free?” The answer is (usually) yes. Just remember: Naming an individual in your proposal and engaging that person in proposal development reflects your commitment to enter into a contract with them if your proposal is funded. (An important caveat: Many community colleges’ procurement rules require a competition or bid process for evaluation services. That may affect your ability to commit to the evaluator should the proposal be funded. Have a frank discussion about this.)
Although there is a limit to what evaluators can or should do for free at the proposal stage, you should expect more than a boilerplate evaluation plan (provided you’ve allowed enough time for a thoughtful one). You want someone who will take a look at your goals and objectives and describe in 1 to 1.25 pages the approach for this project’s evaluation. This will serve you better than modifying their “standard language,” if they offer it, yourself. Once the proposal is funded, their first deliverable will be the complete evaluation plan; you generally won’t need that level of detail at the proposal stage.
Now that you have a handshake agreement with your selected evaluator, make it clear you need the draft evaluation section by a certain deadline — say, a month before the proposal due date. You do not have to discuss detailed contractual terms prior to the proposal being funded, but you do have to establish the evaluation budget and the evaluator’s daily rate, for your budget and budget justification. Establishing this rate requires a frank discussion about fees.
Communication in this process is key. Check out EvaluATE’s webinar, “Getting Everyone on the Same Page,” practical strategies for evaluator-stakeholder communication.
Once your proposal has been funded, you get to hammer out a real statement of work with your evaluator and set up a contract for the project. Then the real work begins.
*This blog is a reprint of an article from an EvaluATE newsletter published in summer 2012.
Keywords: evaluators, find evaluator, proposal, evaluation, evaluation proposal