Promoting Evaluative Thinking in Everyday Practice: Eval Lab 2.0

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<strong>Promot<strong>in</strong>g</strong> <strong><strong>Eval</strong>uative</strong> <strong>Th<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g</strong> <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>Everyday</strong> <strong>Practice</strong>: <strong>Eval</strong> <strong>Lab</strong> <strong>2.0</strong><br />

Interviewed by Sennait Yohannes<br />

Community-University Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families<br />

<strong>Eval</strong> <strong>Lab</strong> is back! And this time, the focus is on collaboratives. <strong>Eval</strong> <strong>Lab</strong> is a six-part series <strong>in</strong>volv<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>-person learn<strong>in</strong>g<br />

focused on evaluation. Throughout a seven month period, participants have the opportunity to explore, test, and<br />

adapt evaluation-based concepts with<strong>in</strong> their workplace contexts. The goal is to explore how nonprofits can <strong>in</strong>tegrate<br />

evaluative th<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>to their practices for improved learn<strong>in</strong>g and decision-mak<strong>in</strong>g. <strong>Eval</strong> <strong>Lab</strong> will help demystify<br />

evaluation-related concepts and adapt them to fit the day-to-day learn<strong>in</strong>g associated with deliver<strong>in</strong>g services and<br />

programs.<br />

In a recent <strong>in</strong>terview with Dr. Bethan K<strong>in</strong>gsley, an <strong>Eval</strong> <strong>Lab</strong> facilitator and Research Associate <strong>in</strong> the Faculty of<br />

Extension, she shared reflections from the pilot cohort <strong>in</strong> 2017/18:<br />

What IMPACT has<br />

<strong>Eval</strong> <strong>Lab</strong> made?<br />

As part of the <strong>Eval</strong> <strong>Lab</strong> we embedded evaluation processes<br />

throughout to ga<strong>in</strong> feedback from participants <strong>in</strong> addition to<br />

do<strong>in</strong>g our own reflection as facilitators. This led to immediate<br />

improvements to the content and structure of the <strong>Lab</strong> (i.e. we<br />

adapted as we delivered throughout the duration of the <strong>Lab</strong>). We<br />

have s<strong>in</strong>ce met several times as facilitators to embed our learn<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>in</strong>to the design of the next round of <strong>Eval</strong> <strong>Lab</strong>, which will beg<strong>in</strong><br />

October 2019. From what we saw throughout the six sessions, I<br />

th<strong>in</strong>k the ma<strong>in</strong> learn<strong>in</strong>g for participants was a complication of<br />

what had previously been accepted as uncomplicated; that is,<br />

us<strong>in</strong>g data to enhance our judgment through evaluative th<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g,<br />

and gett<strong>in</strong>g used to the idea that we will never have any<br />

def<strong>in</strong>itive answers. At best, we can get to a 'maybe', while the<br />

presence of certa<strong>in</strong>ty means we are actually miss<strong>in</strong>g important<br />

areas for learn<strong>in</strong>g. This is how we start to engage <strong>in</strong> reflective<br />

practice.<br />

Because we are still <strong>in</strong> the formative stages of build<strong>in</strong>g<br />

and improv<strong>in</strong>g the <strong>Eval</strong> <strong>Lab</strong>, our priority is really to<br />

provide a high-quality learn<strong>in</strong>g experience for<br />

participants. In do<strong>in</strong>g so we want to support<br />

participants' ability to apply what they have learned <strong>in</strong><br />

the <strong>Lab</strong>, connect to others do<strong>in</strong>g similar work, and<br />

become reflective practitioners <strong>in</strong> a way that feels useful<br />

to the work they are do<strong>in</strong>g. Beyond this, I hope the <strong>Eval</strong><br />

<strong>Lab</strong> can play a role <strong>in</strong> the broader transformation of a<br />

sector that uses data to engage <strong>in</strong> critical reflection to<br />

improve our research, policies and practices.<br />

What is the FUTURE<br />

of <strong>Eval</strong> <strong>Lab</strong>?

What are your<br />

lessons learned<br />

as an evaluator?<br />

My biggest learn<strong>in</strong>g is that evaluation really can be used as<br />

a tool for learn<strong>in</strong>g if we are will<strong>in</strong>g to accept the mess<strong>in</strong>ess<br />

<strong>in</strong>volved <strong>in</strong> this process. Look<strong>in</strong>g for certa<strong>in</strong>ty and try<strong>in</strong>g to<br />

fit data <strong>in</strong>to predeterm<strong>in</strong>ed boxes generally always leads us<br />

to miss the areas where learn<strong>in</strong>g could have been ga<strong>in</strong>ed.<br />

We also need to more readily critique the ways evaluation<br />

is be<strong>in</strong>g employed to uphold a system of 'proof' that is not<br />

work<strong>in</strong>g for anyone (funders, evaluators, or service<br />

providers). In do<strong>in</strong>g so we need to ask ourselves the<br />

question, "Why are we collect<strong>in</strong>g data, and does it really<br />

help us to understand someth<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> a way we couldn't<br />

know before?" By ask<strong>in</strong>g ourselves this question, we can<br />

reduce what is currently a significant data burden on<br />

nonprofits and the <strong>in</strong>dividuals they are try<strong>in</strong>g to serve.<br />

Read the full report from last year:<br />

https://www.evallab.ca/post/evaluation-of-the-eval-lab<br />



What do we mean by a focus on “collaboratives”? By<br />

this, we are broadly referr<strong>in</strong>g to collectives or<br />

networks that <strong>in</strong>volve collaboration between a<br />

number of organizations or chapters <strong>in</strong> an attempt to<br />

achieve a shared mandate.<br />

Where is this happen<strong>in</strong>g? Participants will meet for six<br />

full-day sessions over seven months from October<br />

2019 through to April 2020 at Enterprise Square <strong>in</strong><br />

downtown Edmonton.<br />

Who can come? <strong>Eval</strong> <strong>Lab</strong> is offered to non-profit<br />

sector staff. Participants are strongly encouraged to<br />

register <strong>in</strong> pairs, either from the same organization, or<br />

different organizations <strong>in</strong>volved <strong>in</strong> the same<br />

partnership.<br />

Is there a cost? The fee for <strong>Eval</strong> <strong>Lab</strong> is $1000, which<br />

covers two participants from each collaborative.<br />

More questions? Please reach out to Bethan at<br />

bk<strong>in</strong>gsle@ualberta.ca<br />

Application deadl<strong>in</strong>e is Friday, September 13, 2019.<br />

TO REGISTER: https://www.evallab.ca/apply

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