Hi, I’m Susan Eriksson, a geologist and science educator reformed as an evaluator for science-related programs. I write from my experience as a scientist turned evaluator with many years of working with evaluators, doing my own internal evaluation, and now doing evaluation for others.
Lesson Learned: It seems that many people really ‘don’t get’ evaluation. “Why do we need this?” “Evaluators just make work for themselves.” “You put WHAT in the budget!” Grants administrators, financial people, boards and advisory committees, heads of organizations, and STEM Principal Investigators commonly ask why evaluation is important and why it costs so much.
As an independent evaluator, I am still educating people about what evaluation is. One of the more interesting comments I’ve heard recently was from a program officer in an un-named federal agency. “Susan, why would anyone hire YOU? Evaluators are social science researchers!” Although a reformed scientist/educator does not necessarily qualify as an evaluator, neither do social science researchers necessarily qualify as good evaluators for STEM programs. An ability to ‘talk the talk’ of science combined with evaluation skills and experience make the best STEM evaluators, in my mind.
Evaluation is deemed increasingly important by our government – knowledge- generation faster and supported by evidence! People giving out the grants want to do the ‘right thing’ but many admit they don’t know what good evaluation looks like. In addition, many grant proposal reviewers are inexperienced in evaluation. I just sat on a review panel in which the relatively inexperienced science faculty spoke highly of proposals who mention the phrase ‘external evaluator’. At Evaluation 2013, an NSF officer told us to always include a logic model because reviewers are just beginning to understand those.
We have a long way to go for people to understand the breadth and depth of good evaluation.
Hot Tip: Continue to use any opportunity to educate your clients, your peers, your friendly grant administrator about what evaluation is, what good evaluation looks like, and why evaluation is important in helping people ask the right questions and get significant answers.