Sociologists in the Policy Arena: A Conversation with Tekisha Everette

My first job in Boston was working for Senator Jack Backman, a progressive state Senator who headed up the Human Services Committee on Families and Elder Affairs.  I was considered his “child and family expert”, but I hardly felt like an expert, particularly in that shark tank of policymaking.  I loved and hated that job, the daily tedious business of writing legislation, sitting for hours in meetings, taking orders as the lowest of the low on that totem pole. But I learned how to analyze a state budget, and how bills get passed, and who makes decisions behind which closed doors. I also learned that I wasn’t suited to moving things from inside the system, but I loved being an outsider trying to make the system move. 

Senator Backman sponsored the first universal child care bill in the state, arguing that all children should have access to early childhood education. While this seems laudable now, at the time it was laughable because people felt it was so “out there”, beyond anything that was remotely possible. This was the early 80s, and while women had already been entering the labor force in droves, some politicians were just getting used to it. 

The Governor, a rabid right-wing demagogue, vociferously argued against increasing child care subsidies to poor families, much less even considering universal child care policy. His famous line was that “child care is a Cadillac service”, a “luxury” that the state could not afford, particularly because it was women’s place to stay at home to care for their families. It took several decades for Massachusetts and 39 other states to finally implement universal pre-kindergarten (UPK).

The most compelling part of my job was working with a ferociously committed group of early childhood teachers who fought for more funding for child care programs, including funds to increase child care worker wages. Since my role was as a liaison to a liberal Senator, they lobbied me to take up their cause. Initially I felt flattered that they were trying to convince me to support their issues, but I soon realized that I was “one of them”, except that I had some leverage to help them get access to key legislators. 

It was from this group of amazing early childhood education advocates that I learned about the need for government subsidies to defray the high cost of child care for low- and middle-income parents. It was from them that I learned about the high turnover of child care workers because of their low wages – and the negative impact of teacher turnover on the quality of care to children. Not too soon after I left that job, I became a lobbyist for a statewide child care association.

Recently, I organized a panel for the Sociologists for Women in Society winter meeting, and as I looked for speakers who could demonstrate the wide range of jobs that sociologists have in the “applied world”, I discovered Tekisha Everette, a brilliant Sociologist who, at the time, was working as a lobbyist with the American Diabetes Association. Tekisha spoke about why she chose to be an Applied Sociologist, the substance of what she actually does in her job on a day-to-day basis as a lobbyist, and how she incorporates a race/gender/class lens in talking with policymakers about public health issues. Having worked in the policy world, I was particularly moved by how Tekisha uses her scholarship as a sociologist, incorporating analyses of how race, gender and class affect public health policy issues. Here’s a snippet of our conversation: 

Mindy:  Tekisha – why did you choose to do Applied Sociology?

Tekisha: I chose Applied Sociology because I wanted to combine my educational background – political science, policy and sociology – to affect change in society. I wanted to go beyond studying society to applying that knowledge to drive policy change in society. 

M:  Can you tell me a bit about the types of applied jobs you have held?

T:  I am a lobbyist now but I’ve been policy analyst and a liaison between state government employees and a firm of economists. In each position, I have used my research skills as well as my sociological theoretical lens to execute my work. For me, this has been an amazing experience because I am relevant in a variety of spaces and I can alter my voice and perspective based on what is needed in the situation. 

M:  How would you describe the role you play within the organization’s structure?

T:  I am the lead lobbyist for my organization and I lead a team of three lobbyists and one manager. I provide strategic leadership on policy and legislative efforts of the Association. I also serve as a member of senior management for the department and help shape a number of our projects and priorities. Since most, if not all, of our initiatives have to be evidence-based, I spend a fair amount of time reviewing, requesting, and explaining research to support our legislative ideas. 

M:  What does the work of a lobbyist entail?

T:  Interacting with Members of Congress and their staff, the White House and federal agencies, training and helping our advocates to use their experience to gain support for legislative proposals, reading/reviewing research and translating it into policy. 

M:  How do you incorporate a sociological lens in your work?

T:  Since I have come to my organization, there have been a number of times where I’ve been able to bring a sociological lens to affect decision-making. Overall, I think I have worked to change the way we make decisions to ensure that we take a variety of backgrounds and various interests into account. Being a sociologist gives me the advantage of being able to go beyond the data and making it relevant to policymakers in ways they can understand. My goal is to always be sure I can explain the impact of policy at a localized level – and to incorporate the impact from a gender, race and class perspective.

M:  What drives you to do this work?

T:  I believe that you have to be a able to explain anything you do to your grandma! Perfecting the art of being able to use research and explain it to a variety of audiences is important to me.
Tekisha has just accepted a new position to become the inaugural Executive Director of Health Equity Solutions in Connecticut. The organization is a non-profit focused on addressing health equity issues in Connecticut through public policy, education and advocacy activities. She begins her new position in May, as she takes on another opportunity to have an impact in the policy arena!

Progressive family policies that are close to home…

A number of years ago, I was invited to the Pentagon to talk about a work and family study I was conducting. Anyone who knows me may find this fact pretty incongruous. But I was intrigued to find out about the human resources side of the military. Given my history of antiwar and women’s rights activities – and the fact that my father had been subpoenaed to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s – I fully imagined that I wouldn’t make it through the security screening. But, to my surprise, I sailed through. I found myself being chaperoned through dingy hallways to a very nondescript office for a meeting with a powerhouse of a woman who headed up programming on family supports for military “members” and their families.

Over the next two years, I worked with her and a real live Colonel, a kind and gentle soul who was an expert on domestic violence issues in the military. Our work together focused on assessing how well various military family support agencies were able to collaborate. Their “mission” was to support families through the challenges of dealing with deployment and loss.

I initially felt like a fish out of water working within this institution. But I soon connected with the human dimension and discovered that within the military, there are people from incredibly diverse backgrounds – including political perspectives – who really care about people’s well-being. I also learned that the military has far more progressive family policies than governmental policies in the civilian sphere, which rely on a hodgepodge of precarious private and public funding to service those in need.

I discovered, for example, that the military provides high-quality, affordable and accessible childcare in which early childhood teachers are paid good wages. According to Gail Zelman and Susan Gates, researchers at RAND,

“While there are no easy or obvious solutions to the childcare problem, policymakers can look to an unlikely source from ideas about improving childcare: the military. The US Department of Defense (DoD) has succeeded in optimizing the three key aspects of child care delivery – availability, quality and affordability – a juggling act unduplicated anywhere else in the country. The system currently meets around 60% of the assessed need, serving about 176,000 children 6 weeks to 12 years old in 900 centers and in 9,200 family child care homes nationwide. (Family child care homes are usually run by military spouses.)”

Let’s be honest here:  The military’s desire for high levels of productivity and commitment among its members – and the need for support from military family members – are the drivers underpinning military support for these policies.

So what can policymakers learn from DoD’s experience, ask researchers Zellman and Gates?

“The clear message is that affordable, high-quality child care requires a system level commitment to quality, as well as incentives and funding to make it a reality.”

In contrast, our “civilian” child care system in the U.S. is underfunded and suffers from lack of quality, which can largely be attributed to low wages and inadequate support for its workers. In fact, the turnover rate of early childhood teachers in the U.S. is between 25-30%. Research points to a “turnover climate” which affects overall program quality. One study found that highly trained teachers (BA level or higher with specialized training) “were more likely to leave their jobs if they earned lower wages, worked with fewer highly trained teachers and worked in a climate with less stability.” (Whitebook, at al, 2001). Therefore, worker retention is linked to the stability of the program and ultimately, to higher quality.

In addition to high quality, affordable child care, the military offers paid parental leave and universal health care. Ironically, when progressives promote these policies at the federal (civilian) level, conservatives cry ‘socialism!’

In a memo entitled, “For Our Air Force Family,” Lieutenant General, USAF, Assistant Vice Chief of Staff, Joseph H. Wehrle, Jr., says,

“The United States Air Force is committed to taking care of its own. Steadfast, homefront support is provided to family members by the Integrated Delivery System… As always, we remain One Force, One Family.”

in the military, the credo – “We take care of our own.” – is motivated by the belief that this will support “readiness” for battle, increase productivity, reduce turnover, and ease the process of leaving one’s family behind to put oneself “in harms way” around the globe.

Without such immediate drivers in the corporate or non-military governmental sphere, it is hard to make the case – or as human resource professionals would say, the business case – for progressive family policies. But we don’t have to only look to Europe for inspiration around family policies; we can look to the U.S. military to find some of the most progressive policies in this nation. Don’t we all deserve them?

Bad bosses…

We’ve all had them, and maybe some of us are them! (No, not us!) As a sociologist who has spent many years studying workplaces, I am indebted to a number of bad bosses. Although some of them made my life miserable, they inspired me to understand why. So in the spirit of acknowledgment, I must first say thank you to the boss who told me I was destroying my life by leaving the job to pursue another direction. (Destroying whose life?) And thank you, too, to the psychotic boss who knew that I supported a particular political cause, and out of nowhere screamed at me, “Don’t ever let me see you on television with a sign in your hands supporting that Communist (crap).” Whoa! It hadn’t occurred to me, but now that you mention it…And thank you to the newly appointed manager who, in her first month on the job, falsely accused me of serious financial improprieties. (One month, and many sleepless nights later, I was vindicated.)

Given these experiences, it has been therapeutic to study the American workplace and to dissect some of the problems that contribute to “bad-bossism.” Despite having been “stung” by a few bad bosses, I still believe that people – including some bad bosses – are basically good.

So what is it that leads some people in management positions to “behave badly?” Well for a start, the workplace is a microcosm of our larger culture and society. Societal problems that exist outside the office are likely to surface within it as well, playing out via power dynamics between and among employees, based on their occupational status, their gender, and their racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Political economist and philosopher, Karl Marx, laid the groundwork for understanding the intrinsic tension between labor and management (or, as he would say, capital), in which a capitalist system favors profit over people. In this system, he argued, management would necessarily exploit workers with long hours and poor working conditions, in order to get more productivity out of workers, which in turn would maximize profit. With the advent of laws that limit working hours in manufacturing settings, and the regulation of working conditions, Marx’s critique and analysis continues to provide a useful framework, even though it’s probably more relevant to manufacturing work in Third World countries, where many multinational corporations have moved their operations in search of cheaper labor.

In the U.S., our current economy has increasingly shifted to knowledge-based work and services, and the lines that are drawn between workers and managers are often painted as more subtle. Nonetheless, stratification of the labor force ripples through multiple levels of professional and managerial workers. How do these dynamics affect the contemporary workplace?

Studies suggest that a number of factors shaping workplace environments contribute to the “bad boss” phenomenon:

1. Male model of the ideal worker
In this model, the “normal” trajectory of the worker is based on a “male model” of the ideal worker, a person who can work throughout his (her?) career in a continuous and uninterrupted manner, taking no time for non-work (e.g., personal, family) activities. Sociologist Erin Kelly, et al calls it a “masculinist work culture”, commenting,

“Working long hours is a sign that employees are readily available and eager to meet others’ needs; it further reinforces the ideal worker as someone – most often a man – who does not have, or does not attend to, other pressing commitments outside of work.”

With this model, work comes first. When managers perceive that’s not the case for one or more employees, it’s viewed as an affront to the company, a deviation from employee loyalty. Managers who “buy into” a “masculinist work culture” are likely to be critical of workers who challenge this norm. In a study I conducted on parental leave policy in a large financial services company, the norm was so powerful that men chose not to use the company’s generous parental leave policy, and women who used the policy took very short leaves, even though legally, all employees were entitled to longer leaves.

2. Structural issues that create a culture of competition
in our current American workplace, where the bottom line rules, there are economic pressures to produce. In line with the prevailing capitalist ethic, a culture of competition is viewed by many managers as necessary to foster productivity, with long hours as the norm. In order to sustain productivity, managers feel pressure from above to push employees to produce more, even when they realize that it’s not humanly possible. In a number of the workplace studies I’ve conducted, I’ve learned that being in a middle managerial position is often isolating. This makes these managers depressed and grumpy. Most have little support to figure out a better way, and they realize quickly that too much empathy for their “subordinates” takes too much time. Ergo, they may “act badly.”

3. Poor economic times makes managers even more grumpy
In our crisis economy, the financial pressure is even more intense, and some managers may exhibit more controlling behavior towards their employees. Managers are being more closely monitored on financial performance, and they may be even less likely to take the time to attend to employees’ feelings or needs under these conditions.

4. “Deal with it; I did!”
Some managers worked hard to get where they are, and along the way, they experienced a lot of pain themselves. When they get to the top (or close to it), some pass on what is familiar. While many of the managers I’ve interviewed worked very hard to respond to the needs of those under their supervision, some were less than understanding.

5. Lack of management training
Some managers who are good workers are rewarded by being moved up to management positions. While some organizations prepare their workers for this type of promotion, others fail to prepare them for the pressures they encounter once they are in charge. Without adequate management training, some bosses make mistakes, even lots of mistakes. Sometimes they find themselves in positions of power and it feels uncomfortable. They’re being asked to do things with and to workers that they wouldn’t have liked themselves. They know that. But they don’t know how to challenge or work with the system without jeopardizing their reputation or losing their jobs. This can make for frustration and grumpiness.

6. Personality problems
Some managers just shouldn’t be managing people. Their “management style” may look good to upper-level managers because it fits in with a culture of competition and drive. But they may be making the people who work for them miserable. Because of an “us” and “them” dichotomy, other managers may even side with them.

Perhaps we all have a story about the crazy or mean or incompetent boss. Are all managers bad bosses? No, of course not. But the problem is clearly pervasive: Google “bad boss” and you’ll find over 7 million citations, with countless workers publicly venting about their negative experiences, and experts offering advice on how to deal with that mean and disrespectful supervisor.

What is a good boss? There’s plenty written about good bosses as well. Google “good boss” and you’ll find over 14 million citations! Hopefully we’ve also had them (and maybe even are them!).

Here’s an excerpt (slightly tweaked) from an 10/10/10 article in the Chicago Tribute by Mary Schmich about what makes a “good boss.”

* A good boss understands that all power is fleeting and borrowed, and doesn’t take advantage of this moment.
* A good boss realizes that her/his real power comes not from those above him, but from the rank-and-file.
* A good boss listens, and can see a problem before it turns into a crisis. If it does turn into a crisis, the good boss works with an employee to resolve the situation.
* A good boss understands that your time is important too.
* A good boss is a good communicator, responding to your concerns and questions in person and via electronic communications.
* A good boss treats employees with respect. S/he does not treat people differently based on their occupational status, gender, race or sexual orientation.
* A good boss tries to make everyone feel special and included.
* A good boss is self-aware and tries to understand how his/her behavior affects others.
* A good boss has the courage to deal with problem employees, and does it professionally.
* A good boss tells you when you screwed up and forgives you.
* A good boss does not take credit for your ideas, nor does s/he demand credit when s/he gives you an idea.
* A good boss is not afraid of people as smart as s/he is.
* A good boss sees what you do best, matches your job to your talents, and gives you room to bloom.
* A good boss remembers how s/he felt about bosses before s/he was one.
* A good boss reveals just enough about her/his personal life to remind you that bosses are people too.
* A good boss doesn’t take bonuses when the workers can’t get a raise.

* A good boss knows how to apologize and how to laugh, sometimes at him/herself.
* And a good boss understands how much we all yearn for a good boss.

Parenting our parents from near and far…

Like many daughters and sons, I am a caregiver from afar, talking to my father on a daily basis, sometimes two to three times a day, consulting with nurses and doctors, and managing a cavalcade of dedicated caregivers who do “my” job by proxy. I supervise the caregivers, support them and problem solve with them. They are my eyes and ears and I am ever grateful for their insights. I’m very lucky to share this job with my sister, who takes on a lion’s share of caregiving work, and with whom I can laugh, grumble and cry when needed. We are far from alone as distance caregivers…
The elderly population in the U.S. is expected to more than double between now and 2050, according to Boston College’s Center for Work & Family.  Thousands of adult children take care of their parents. Not surprisingly, given the gender division of labor in families, about two thirds of these caregivers are daughters. On average we are about 50 years old, and the recipients of our care are on average about 77 years old. My father is a lot older than that. In fact he’s almost 100!  I truly hope I inherited his cat-has-nine-lives genes, but we shall see…
Of all the adults who care for an elder parent, a little over 10% do it like us, from afar. My sister and I tried to get our dad to come live in either of our cities, but he is rooted in his own hometown. It is there that he has established his identity and is surrounded by a flock of loved ones, including people who admire him for his past accomplishments.
There’s no doubt that caring for an elder parent requires a team effort. It’s hard to imagine how some people do it, or sometimes even how we do it!  The older our father gets, the more we have hunkered down to the task of trying to keep him healthy and engaged, and to help him remember who he is and has been in his life. And yet ultimately, there is a limit to how much power or influence we – his loved ones, friends and paid caregivers – actually have.
Nearly 60% of those who care for their elder parents are in the paid workforce, and the majority of us work full-time. Our work as caregivers is on top of – and sometimes in the midst of – our paid work. It’s not uncommon for me to get a call in the middle of my workday either from my father or about my father, and whatever work is generated from the call simply gets woven into the many strands of my other responsibilities. I’m lucky that as a consultant who makes her own hours — working odd times and places — I have the workplace flexibility that allows this weaving process. 
An increasing number of employees need flexibility in their paid work schedules to accommodate the responsibilities they have as unpaid caregivers. They may need to drive elder parents to appointments, and those of us who provide care from a distance may need to find other people to do the driving.  Whether near or far, we often make those appointments, monitor medications, buy necessities, ensure that their housing is safe, their meals nutritious, and their friends aware of what’s going on. We often need to fight to ensure that the care of our parents is high-quality and consistent. More than 54% of caregivers have advocated for their “care recipient” with providers of services and government agencies, according to the National Alliance of Caregiving.
In a report by the Center for Boston College Center for Work & Family, researchers say:

“It is surprising that employers are not moving faster to address elder care issues in the workplace. Why? Many employers just don’t know what to do, or have difficulty grasping the extent to which elder care is an issue for their employees.”

Researchers found that workers often opt not to discuss their caregiving problems with coworkers or supervisors, “a silence reinforced by our society’s reluctance to confront issues of aging and death.”

They also note that the business impact of not responding to employees’ caregiving responsibilities is significant, and includes work interruptions (e.g, unexpected time off, tardiness) which may affect worker productivity; caregiver stress and fatigue that can result in higher medical and employee assistance costs; and potential turnover when employees simply cannot balance caregiving and work demands. In fact, according to a 1995 study by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, elder care costs a company about $3,142 a year per employee, based on various costs associated with employee productivity.

In a 2009 study by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, researchers found,

“Over 78% of respondents reported (that) having access to flexible work options contributes to their success as employees to a moderate or greater extent (and) 90% reported that (these) options contribute to their overall quality of life to a moderate or great extent.”
Flextime, compressed work hours and telecommuting are just some of the alternative scheduling options that can help workers with their caregiving demands. While there are some “family-friendly” companies that recognize the personal needs of their workforce, there’s still a long way to go. In a study I did on flexible work policies in five large corporations, I found that unless companies had a written work policy that all employees were aware of, employees found it difficult to negotiate an arrangement with their supervisors.  

Interestingly, according to the National alliance for Caregiving, from 2004 to 2009, there has been a notable increase in the percentage of caregivers who live within 20 minutes from their elder parents – from 44% to 51%. Regardless of where we live, our elder parents need us.  And as caregivers, we need support — from our family and our workplaces — to be there for them. 

Finally what can government do? Right now we have an inadequate law – the Family and Medical Leave Act – that provides unpaid leave to employees who take time off from work to care for a sick family member. Making that policy a paid leave would be a good start…

From child care to early care and education: it’s still a struggle…

In the early 1980s, I was radicalized by a small band of smart and committed child care workers who lobbied me when I was working for Jack Backman, a progressive state Senator in Massachusetts. First of all, as a new Bostonian who was just starting on the job, I was totally flattered that anyone would lobby me! But moreover, these incredible child care teachers were activists who loved children and understood firsthand the wage inequities for teachers caring for young children. The governor at the time called child care a “Cadillac service”, in other words, something superfluous – because women were expected to be primary caregivers for their children. But even then, 30 years ago, this view was way out of sync with the reality of women in the labor force, and especially the rise of mothers – about ½ of all mothers with infants and around ¾ of mothers with children under 5 – who continued to work for pay after their babies were born.

My child care activist buddies did their work well, and I came to believe that childcare– or early care and education as it is now called – was one of the most important issues for working parents and their children. It wasn’t a hard sell for Senator Backman, who sponsored a bill to create universal child care for all. At the time, this bill seemed outrageous, the kind of outrageous that inspired behind-his-back twitters (the old-fashioned, non-techy kind). But I have learned that in the world of policy, we NEED outrageous to push the debate towards the possible…

Suffice it to say, the bill never went anywhere. Over these past 30 years, the child care movement has matured into the early childhood education movement, fueled in part by the push for educational achievement of young children, as well as by the economic reality that two-parent families need/require stable child care services to maintain economic stability. The movement throughout the country around early care and education continues to grow. There has been progress, and Massachusetts has had some notable victories. A few decades after Senator Backman’s failed legislation, a Massachusetts-based group called the Early Education for All Campaign, mobilized support among legislators and advocates around a universal pre-kindergarten bill. The bill passed, creating access to public education for all Massachusetts 4-year-olds.

But there’s still a long way to go, and we could learn a lot from family policies in Europe that include paid parental leave, universal child care (that serves very young children), and non-stigmatized financial support for family caregiving…

Short of more radical change, we need to unravel some of the systemic glitches…
In a recent NY Times article (5/23: Cuts to Child Care Subsidy Thwarts More Job Seekers) – we learn that the Arizona state budget has cut funding for subsidized child care, forcing some low-income mothers to quit their jobs and instead receive state welfare benefits. These are single women who depend on their salaries to support their families. They will look for another job, but they need to keep their salaries below a certain limit to access subsidized child care.,

What’s wrong with this picture? Once again – or should I say still – we see that early care and education services are critical to family survival, and our social welfare policies in this nation undermine family economic stability.

Why Evaluation Research is Pretty Cool…

Despite this current climate of economic belt-tightening – and maybe even because of it – there is growing pressure on organizations to evaluate their programs. More and more, funders are asking for a comprehensive evaluation plan that produces concrete data on the process of implementation and the outcomes of the program. While federal and state grants have historically required evaluation as a part of their budgets, the emphasis has  increased in this tough economy and private foundations are not far behind. Funders want to know that their money is being used to do what was promised, that the outcomes promised were achieved, or if not, that there were legitimate reasons.

Many programs approach the notion of evaluation with the fear of being judged (“What if they find that we screwed up?”), annoyance (“This is a waste of time.”), or resentment. (“Why do they have to spend so much money on evaluation instead of where it belongs, in the program?”).

These reactions may be influenced by people’s previous experience with evaluation or a lack of it. My own first experience with an evaluator – nearly 30 years ago – was downright disappointing. I was directing a federally-funded educational program based in state government. And our evaluator “came with” the project; that is, we had no input on his selection. He “interviewed” me a couple of times and seemed friendly enough, but I never really felt he cared about the project or really understood what we were doing, nor did he make much effort to do so. He didn’t seem to have an evaluation research design, didn’t ask me for input on the interview protocols he used, and I honestly have no idea who he even talked to in the process of evaluating the program. 

At the end, he generated a report that was totally useless (to us at least) and didn’t really resonate with our experience of the program. Nonetheless, he concluded that we had done a good job, so we were not about to argue! We could say an independent evaluator liked the program… Sad to say, my colleagues and I just thought it was a big joke. But in reality, what a waste of public dollars, and what a missed opportunity for us to actually reflect on our program experience!

A sound evaluation is focused on identifying and supporting the strength of a program, identifying the challenges, and targeting ways to overcome the obstacles. In my view, the goal of evaluation must be to help organizational decision makers make good choices about their programs and/or policies.

All evaluation is aimed at assessing some form of transformation, whether at the micro or macro level, including understanding if all the elements are in place to achieve the desired goals. In the vernacular of sociologists, I bring a “third eye” to help solve problems in diverse organizational settings, such as foundations, nonprofits and universities.

To these “clients”, I am an evaluation researcher, organizational analyst, educator, strategic planner, and increasingly a management coach. Some of the questions my colleagues and I have grappled with this year include:

* To what extent do early childhood teachers benefit from state policies aimed at improving quality in child care programs?
* How can a university-community partnership overcome differences to work together more effectively?
* What role can the arts play in improving student outcomes and school culture?
* How can a foundation-initiated leadership program strengthen the nonprofit sector?

When I do evaluation planning with clients, I ask them:

Who wants to know what for what purpose?

* In other words, who is the audience for the evaluation?
* What does the audience want to know?
* And why do they want to know it?

Usually the audience for an evaluation is both internal and external. An internal audience is the program leadership and staff who need robust information about how a program is being implemented and/or developing, so it can stay on course or improve if there are difficulties. An external audience generally refers to funders or policymakers, those who require an evaluation or will use evaluation data for their own decision-making purposes.

That said, I (and most of my evaluator colleagues) often choose to work with organizations that are trying to make a positive change in society with the clients they serve, the policies they promote, the campaigns they run and/or the advocacy efforts they promote. As an evaluator, I present myself to organizations as a “critical friend” who can think big-picture about what they are trying to accomplish and who can work closely with them to understand what is working and what needs some help. 

Evaluation can play a key role in supporting program leaders and staff to make good decisions to maximize the possibility of achieving goals, or dare I say, “success”, however that is defined…. And it is also key to highlighting the real world challenges programs face that may impede program success. 

Increasingly, I am finding that funders want evaluation research to document the process of program implementation, warts and all. Those of us who run or evaluate programs have known for a long time that programs will run into obstacles when they are being implemented. Evaluation can bring a wide lens to understanding and documenting these obstacles, what it takes to overcome them, or if they simply are insurmountable.

In my next posting, I will write about how to select an independent evaluator. It is inspired by my experience and that of my evaluator colleagues who have some very wise things to say. Stay tuned!  Meanwhile, here are a few quotes that relate to evaluation research because, as I said, evaluation research is pretty cool…

Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”  Albert Einstein

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”  Truman Capote

“My mother drew a distinction between achievement and success. She said that ‘achievement is the knowledge that you have studied and worked hard and done the best that is the new. Success is being praised by others, and that’s nice too, but not as important or satisfying. Always aim for achievement and forget about success..'” Helen Hayes

“First get your facts; then you can distort them at your leisure.”  Mark Twain

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent van Gogh

 “True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information.” Winston Churchill

 “Each time he sees me, while all the rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.” George Bernard Shaw

Friend to Groucho Marx:  “Life is difficult!”

Marx to Friend:  “Compared to what?”