Building Trust as a Program Evaluator
Relationships between direct service providers and program evaluators can sometimes be uncomfortable. As a program evaluator, it’s critically important to provide accurate, objective, and reliable information to organizational leadership and funders. However, our ultimate goal should be to provide high quality program evaluation that also engages and inspires the front-line staff who are doing the work every day. Real continuous quality improvement happens through a partnership between the service providers and the evaluators…it’s built on a foundation of good communication, transparency, and employee engagement.
Program evaluation can be stressful for service providers. They have goals and deadlines to meet, and sometimes their job, and/or their program’s future, depends on the outcome. When evaluators create space for dialogue with the entire program staff, it is an opportunity to explore feelings of stress and to validate their concerns. During these discussions, program evaluators can align themselves with the team and set a welcoming tone for ongoing communication, especially about topics that create tension in the workplace.
Sharing information frequently and completely builds trust. When program evaluators share updates with the entire staff, it strengthens the relationship. This also offers an opportunity for the program staff to recommend evaluation methodology improvements, or explain outliers, based on their first-hand knowledge of the data. Sharing evaluation updates often, or even better, publishing an evaluation dashboard somewhere the staff can always see it, mitigates fear of secrets or impending bad news.
Program staff engagement in the evaluation process is a goal we should all strive for. When the staff are engaged, the evaluation work will be smoother, and the evaluation outcome will be better because the staff know what is really going on with the program better than anyone. Staff engagement also increases ongoing motivation to meet program goals because they were included in the goal setting and measurement process. When people feel engaged in a project they will contribute their best work and remain dedicated to it over time, which is beneficial for the evaluation, and most importantly, contributes to the program’s overall success.
Technology can be a helpful tool to strengthen relationships during program evaluation. Software like VerticalChange allows service providers to collect data about their clients in a way that makes sense to them and helps them do their jobs everyday. Data collection is more complete when data entry is less burdensome. Program evaluators can also use a variety of reporting tools in VerticalChange to access data without disrupting the service workflow, and data sets can be fully de-identified for external use with ease.
If you would like to talk about how you could use VerticalChange for program evaluation, please contact me.
Luke Barrett, MSW, MPA