The decision to hire an independent evaluator versus an internal staff member can be difficult depending on the breadth of the evaluation work and the long-term vision for the organization. Below we have listed the considerations of each option and a few questions to consider when making this decision.
Independent Evaluator (External Contract)
More likely to maintain impartiality
More likely to reduce bias in the work
Identify questions that may seem evident to internal staff, but not easily evident to others. This can better inform dissemination strategies and public facing communication.
Specific deliverables, action items, and tasks can be defined and a part of the payment structure.
Do not have to pay organizational benefits such as health insurance, 401K, family leave, etc.
May cost more per hour but is time-limited.
If the project is long term, you may need to execute separate contracts for different time periods, or limit hours during lulls. This will allow you to reduce unnecessary payments when there is little work for the evaluator. A good example of this is when you have defined a project and data elements, and you are collecting these data from your electronic health system over the course of a number of months to examine an intervention. You may need an hour here and again to troubleshoot issues, but you will not need the same attention as during other periods of the evaluation.
If you do not like the evaluator, you can end the contract and look for a different evaluation partner.
Sometimes internal staff will view an independent evaluator more like an auditor, and they may be more reluctant to collaborate. It is also possible that they like that the evaluator is independent of staff meetings and other opportunities for them to discuss program improvement and shortfalls.
A few questions for consideration:
Does the organization want to pay for specific deliverables/action items/tasks, or pay a weekly salary?
How much does the organization anticipate evaluation work and time will fluctuate?
How removed do you want the evaluator from the daily work?
Do funding sources require an independent evaluation?
Internal Evaluation Staff Member
If your organization has a variety of programs that need an evaluator, it may make the most financial sense to hire an internal staff member. You need enough work to keep an individual or team busy full time.
More likely to become ingrained in the workflow and programmatic efforts. Once onboard, they will not need to relearn the entire environment for each evaluation.
Extreme familiarity with organization policies and procedures.
If full-time they will require the same benefits as other staff (health insurance, family leave, 401K, etc).
The organization will have to pay for training to ensure that the staff member/team is equipped to utilize appropriate evaluation methods. This will require attendance to conferences, professional development, and networking opportunities.
The organization needs to ensure that the evaluator can optimize impartiality such that her or his pay or bonuses are not tied to programmatic outcomes. It should be clearly communicated that negative or suboptimal findings are not the responsibility of the internal staff member.
A few questions for consideration:
Does the organization have appropriate expertise and time to provide supervision to an internal staff member? Who will provide the necessary supervision for the evaluation staff member?
What resources are available to connect the staff member with evaluation experts, mentors, and knowledge?
How can communication be optimized such that leadership listens to and values negative or suboptimal findings?
How will the broader team view an internal evaluation staff member? Will they view them as an ally or an auditor?
If you have further questions about the strengths and challenges to hiring an independent external evaluator versus an internal evaluation staff member, please feel free to contact us through our website or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.