What does Utilization-Focused Evaluation really mean? Post #1
What does Evaluation really mean?
I am learning this myself as the newest addition to the Ciurczak team. In October of 2011, I was hired as a research assistant for the company. Formerly a mathematics teacher and a researcher in social science, I am new to the field of evaluation. As part of my on-boarding with Ciurczak, I am reading Utilization-Focused Evaluation by Michael Quinn Patton (MQP).
This blog was started by Komani Lundquist, the Director of Operations at Ciurczak & Company, Inc. in order to provide a non-evaluator’s perspective to evaluation. In Part 1 of the blog, Komani focused on the first two words in the book title—Utilization-Focused. Komani emphasized the importance of use in utilization-focused evaluation, in which the evaluator becomes a partner on the project and strives to make the evaluation results meaningful, helpful, and action-oriented. In this post, Part 2 of the UFE series, I will focus on the final word of the book title—Evaluation.
We can think of evaluation as determining value, which is why it can be a bit scary. Based on my experience, it seems there is a general discomfort that comes along with the idea of assigning value, especially when value is being assigned to the life’s work of an individual. There appears to be a connection in the mind between evaluation and judgment; we seem to be afraid of an evaluation outcome proclaiming that we do not actually have value.
In my time here at Ciurczak, I have visited several educational programs in the greater Buffalo area with evaluators, and the program directors seem to have a few things in common. First, it is clear at each of the programs that the staff is dedicated to the success of children. Second, it is clear that they are all afraid that the work they do is not enough to support that success.
Because of that fear, we are sometimes referred to as “inspectors” or “auditors.” Although we always remind program staff that our goal is to provide information to help them run quality programs, there is no question that some anxiety remains.
I completely understand this anxiety! When I was a teacher, my fellow teachers and I were terrified of being evaluated through teacher observations. Even though we planned engaging lessons and knew that the goal of the observations was for professional growth and in no way judgment, we were still anxious! It seems as though evaluation will always produce a bit of anxiety.
However, what I am learning through my work at Ciurczak is that despite the anxiety, evaluation is essential when working toward continual improvement!
According to MQP, evaluation findings rely on the following steps:
- analyzing and organizing data,
- facilitating interpretation,
- rendering judgment,
- generating recommendations.
It seems to me that when we think of evaluation, our minds become trapped in step 3 and never make it to step 4. However, step 4 is essential—generating recommendations in order to improve programs, improve results, and improve how we function in our life’s work.
Overall, I’m learning that even though evaluation can produce a bit of anxiety, it really can make all the difference! I look forward to continuing to work with the evaluators of Ciurczak to help programs continually improve.