As a devoted and slightly over-the-top ice cream addict, I approach summer with unbridled glee as I visit my favorite outdoor ice cream haunts.  (Hint: I reveal my favorite ice cream parlour at the end of this blog post.)

While I could – and do with friends – wax eloquent about the virtues of the ice cream cone, I will re-direct my focus to the topic of finding and working with an evaluation researcher. Wait!  There is one key similarity!  If you’re running a program and you are required to – or choose to – work with an evaluator, it’s all about finding the right match… Just like with most people and their ice cream; you have to find the right flavor for you.  If you don’t eat nuts, you wouldn’t be happy with pecan ice cream, right?  If you adore ice cream, you may be less thrilled about frozen yoghurt. OK, so maybe the analogy ends there…

But in the midst of this hot, steamy summer, when I am not satiating my ice cream cravings, I’ve been having some interesting conversations with colleagues about the important things organizations should consider when selecting and working with an evaluator. To that end, thank you to my colleagues at Arbor Consulting Partners and my virtual evaluator colleagues (see below for names).

For me, the bottom line for selecting and working successfully with an evaluator is that it’s really about developing a working relationship between two parties. An evaluator brings a set of skills and a “third eye” to this venture with the purpose of helping an organization grow and thrive, and the client brings organizational knowledge and insights, as well as access to information and people that can further the evaluation process. Finding the right match is key…

There are a few things to think about:

– How do organizations find an evaluator?
– What skills should organizations look for in an evaluator?
– What should organizations tell potential evaluators about their needs?

Where to find an evaluator?  There are a number of sources out there, beginning with friends and colleagues who may have worked with an evaluator. But there are other great resources (thanks to Belle Brett) such as vendor lists kept by state departments; the American Evaluation Association’s (AEA) “find an evaluator” function on its website (; statewide evaluation associations; department chairs of evaluation programs at various colleges and universities; and resource databases kept by private foundations (W. K. Kellogg Foundation,

What skills should organizations look for in an evaluation?  Organizational leaders should look for someone they could trust, someone who listens well and can think intelligently about the program’s goals and the extent to which it’s designed to achieve those goals. Cultural sensitivity and competency may be an important factor in the potential evaluator. Organizational leaders should ask potential evaluators about their approach to working with clients and the kinds of evaluation they have done. They should get references and writing samples from a range of clients whose work is similar or relevant.

What should organizations tell potential evaluators about their needs?  Organizational leaders should tell potential evaluators what their budget is and when the project will begin. If organizations are in the process of developing a proposal, they can invite the evaluator to get involved right at the beginning. The relationship can begin right away, and evaluators can help conceptualize a new program, ensuring that the program and evaluation research designs fit the needs of the organization and are acceptable to funders.

I welcome your comments and other ideas about finding the right match!

THANKS:  Thank you to my colleagues whose ideas are reflected in this blog:  Madeleine Taylor at Arbor Consulting Partners, Belle Brett of Brett Consulting Group, Steve Gill from Consultant for Human Performance Improvement, Marty Henry at Henry Consulting, LLC, Marilyn Hwalik of SPEC Associates, Geri Lynn Peak, Dr.PH of Two Gems Consulting Services, Sheri Scott of Scott Consulting Partners, LLC, Jan Upton from Institutional Research Consultants, Ltd., and Susan Wolfe of Susan Wolfe and Associates, LLC.

And finally:  What’s my favorite ice cream parlour?  How about 3?

Boston:  Kimball Farms in Carlisle Massachusetts
Pittsburgh: Bruster’s 
Los Angeles:  Lake Street Creamery

Any others you want to suggest?