I’ve been thinking a little bit about the house building process recently – not thinking of undertaking it, but thinking about how embarking on an evaluation can be surprisingly similar to deciding to build a house. There’s no doubt that designing and building a new home is a gargantuan task and the experience can feel completely overwhelming. But, for those who put the effort in and survive to tell the tale, the results can be superbly rewarding.
So what makes me think that house building is so similar to building an evaluation? For one thing, the first step is basically the same: You call in the experts. For home building, you find a builder and for an evaluation, you find an evaluator. But what really got me thinking about the similarities is this: in either case, once you’ve called in the expert, you have many options of how you want to proceed. In my mind, people fall into three general approaches on either of these projects:
1) “I want to be involved, but I need help figuring things out.”
For this person, the expert becomes a facilitator, who helps them identify their needs and options. For instance, a builder might ask a client questions about how often and what kind of cooking she/he does, in order to figure out how to layout the kitchen. Similarly, an evaluator might ask a client to list their current needs (e.g., areas of program strengths and challenges) and options (e.g., capacity of the program staff) in order to determine an appropriate evaluation plan.
2) “I’m happy to let the experts handle things.”
This is the person who hires a builder because she/he likes their work and says, “Design me a home.” This person knows they’ll be happy with the results because they trust the expert, and they don’t have the time or the desire to get involved in the details. Many organizations hire an evaluator with exactly the same idea of trusting the expert to handle the planning and execution of the entire evaluation process.
3) “I have a really good idea of what I want.”
This person knows exactly how many doors they want in their house—and what they want the doorknobs to look like as well. When working with an evaluator, this type of client has clear expectations about how they want the process to go. For this client the evaluator is contracted to perform specific tasks such as data analysis or on an as-needed basis.
My list above of course is not meant to be exhaustive or inclusive of all scenarios. Given the complexity of evaluations and environments, it is likely that there is a good mix of all three types in a single client. If you have other ways to work with an evaluator, please share!