OPEN Member Spotlight:
How long have you been a member of OPEN?
I’m pretty sure it’s four years. I signed up when I was a master’s student and went to the Winter annual meeting. I didn’t know anyone but I forced myself to go because networking is important. It’s a cliche to say and it’s hard to prove it works, but in my case it worked. In additional to the annual meeting, I did a lot of informational interviews while in school. At the next year’s annual meeting, Lindsay Smith (who was the outgoing president and did an informational interview with me earlier in the year) saw me and mentioned a job I should look at. I looked into it and three weeks later I was hired. So in conclusion networking is important.
What got you interested in evaluation?
I was support staff for an AmeriCorps program for several years; as a federal program we had to collect a lot of seemingly superfluous data with scarce resources. It was hard to prove to our government overlords that our program ran well; many times the information asked of us and the information we collected neither gelled nor did the program justice, which was frustrating. It was almost impossible to make the case to improve the program without relying almost entirely on my own anecdotal evidence, which was also frustrating. So I suppose the answer to why I got interested in evaluation is out of a sense of overwhelming frustration. I saw the same thing in organizations handcuffed by indirect budgeting limitations and/or so skeletonized they don’t have time to reflect (which in my limited experience seems to be just about everyone). There was a sense that we were spinning our wheels, but there wasn’t enough time, knowledge, and/or money to really prove what we all saw from our vantage place as staff. I muddled around for a solution and stumbled on the field of evaluation as the exact solution to my frustration.
What’s your favorite thing about being an evaluator?
Ahhhh, let me count the ways. All of it? I love when as a result of an evaluation, someone is empowered to improve a program. Proving that a program works and/or receiving funding is important, but I get joy from seeing someone empowered to realize and make a change that benefits clients, processes, results, etc. and has the proof to back it up for anyone who is listening.
What is a highlight from a recent evaluation you’ve done?
I love data visualization, though I have yet to display a talent for it. The ability to distill complicated information to a graphic that makes sense in about five seconds is magic. And the best thing is that anyone can tell you if you if your visualization works or not just by looking at it (especially if they don’t care). I think we got pretty close to that magic with a graphic that compares what students believe they do in research labs with what their supervisor/mentor believes the student does in the lab. It’s not terribly exciting because it turns out students and their mentors agree just about all of the time, but I never said that a majority of what I do is terribly exciting. However, if people are able to understand what we’re saying, then it was a success.
Networking = important. Frustration -> evaluation. Improve -> happy. Graphics = magic