Tag Archives: evaluations

What Is An Evaluation?

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One of my first evaluation projects started with a phone call (e-mail was rare in those long ago days). The conversion went something like this …

“John, we have this grant that requires that we do an evaluation. Sounds great. Love it. Can’t wait to get started. Just one question—What’s an evaluation?”

While a great deal has changed in the years since I fielded that call, I still like to joke that evaluation is the largest profession that no one has heard of. The American Evaluation Association has over 6,000 members, and during the past five years their ranks swelled by 40 percent. Virtually every grant awarded today by a government funding agency, philanthropic foundation or corporation requires an evaluation. Yet evaluators and their work are unknown to most Americans, so much so that at dinner parties I find myself feeling uncomfortable for the poor soul seated next to me who innocently asks, “What do you do?” How can I possibly explain before the table is cleared?

My standard answer is that I help professionals who manage educational and social programs figure out how effective their programs are and find ways to make their programs more effective. I go on to explain that I run a firm in which I and my colleagues specialize in something rather particular and technical called randomized trials. Essentially, these are experiments similar to the ones that doctors and drug companies conduct to ensure that medical treatments are effective. Continue reading

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