Evaluation is a vast and diverse field. Evaluators bring a variety of approaches and expertise in methodologies, thematic knowledge, experiences, and approaches to the work. There is no one evaluator or evaluation organization that is best at everything, so you will need to do your homework to find the right fit for you.
First you should have an understanding of what you need accomplished. A few questions you may want to reflect on:
Where are you in your evaluation journey?
-Do you know what you would like to evaluate?
-Do you have an evaluation plan in place?
-Have you already identified relevant data?
-Does this data already exist or does it need to be collected?)
What do you need from an evaluation partner?
-Creation of an evaluation plan?
-Someone who can work with you from start to finish?
What does an ideal evaluation partnership look like to you?
-What personality traits are a good fit for your work?
-How involved do you want the evaluator to be in the work?
Once you have these questions more or less answered, two themes should be considered when hiring an evaluation partner: Thematic/ Methodological Expertise and Fit.
Thematic/ Methodological Expertise
It is not always important that you hire an evaluator with thematic expertise in the topic of your work. In fact, there can be benefits to bringing in an evaluator who has never worked on a project in your world before. In this situation, s/he will be learning as they go and will likely be able to uncover important nuances that others may miss due to asking basic questions and general dedication to discovery. You may, however, want to find someone who shares a passion about your general field, whether that be education, the criminal justice system, or healthcare. This passion may be much more important that specific thematically expertise (and will be highlighted below when examining fit).
If you have a general understanding of what you want to evaluate, you will greatly benefit from partnering with an evaluator who has experience and training in the specific methodologies of interest. This can be as broadly defined as a qualitative versus quantitative, where qualitative experts will employ data collection techniques like focus groups, interviews, and observation to gain understanding of opinions, perspectives, and experiences, while quantitative experts will utilize data to examine trends, inferences, and associations using numbers. Many evaluators are trained in mixed-methods, meaning they are versed in both qualitative and qualitative evaluation methods.
Once you have identified the general expertise that you need your evaluator to possess, you will need to turn your attention to fit. This is often much more important for the overall success and enjoyment of the work, and should not be overlooked. Any evaluator that you hire is going to ask a lot of questions, some of which you may not be comfortable identifying, or even sharing, an answer. They will likely learn what aspects of your program/policy/practice are less than ideal while identifying aspects that are extraordinary. You will need to be comfortable discussing this with your evaluator, so her or his personality will be critical for your success. A few phone calls/coffee meetings may serve you best to get a sense of the individual’s fit for your work.
To gain the insight you need, you may need to reflect on the following questions.
Do you like to work with people who give it to you straight? How soft do you prefer an individuals approach to bad news?
What is the best way to ask you questions that may be difficult to answer?
What type of personality will your team work best with?
What is the ideal personality to engage with your key stakeholders?
Often, the most important aspect of fit is identifying if you share passion for your work with your evaluation partner. Most often the best partnerships are those that bring together the most appropriate expertise and share a drive to achieve common goals. What are you/your organization most passionate about in your work? The answer to this question can genuinely help to identify the best evaluation fit for your efforts, and should be shared with the individuals or team that you hire.
If you would like to discuss this further and/or brainstorm about finding an evaluator for your work, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.