Next week I’m meeting with a group of stakeholders to begin the planning for the evaluation of an initiative. These will mostly be new working relationships for me, as I haven’t worked with or even met many of the stakeholders before. So it’s timely that I give some thought to what I need to tell them about me and how I work, and what I need to know about them and the way they want to be worked with.
By chance Lara Hilton, a research analyst in the United States, published some Hot Tips about developing relationships with stakeholders in her June 18 posting to the American Evaluation Association, AEA365, blog. She talks about being informed, alert, flexible, and of service. This provided me a bit of a structure to think through my approach for next week’s meeting.
Be informed I have the initial Request for Proposals (RfP) for the evaluation work and this gives me some background to the organisation delivering the programme that’s going to be evaluated. The RfP also talks about the programme aim and objectives, and has a one-page intervention logic. I did a bit of background checking via Google when I was preparing my evaluation proposal so I can go back to that information. I now need to find out more information if I can about the programme, the organisation, the community, the programme target group (who’s it for?), and the stakeholders. Lara makes the point that the more background information I have, “the more intelligent [my] inquiry will be.” This is good point, as I don’t want to waste people’s time by making them provide me with information that I should have already sourced. This way our time can be more productively spent on more in-depth inquiry. I must remember to ask permission to record this first meeting, as this approach will mean that the information shared may well be valuable for the evaluation itself, as well as the planning.
Be alert Where Lara talks about being alert and getting “a quick read on stakeholders” we have the advantage through formalised Māori protocols of engagement for learning a lot about the people we’re sitting with when they introduce themselves. My alertness is about how I connect with people – through both whakapapa (kinship) and other links. If I was to translate this tip it would be Kia tupato, be careful. I pay attention to the relationships among stakeholders, any animosity or threats that are present (sometimes these are subtle and related to programme funding), and things like who’s comfortable and who’s not (and may need to have an aside conversation away from the group).
Be flexible Lara recommends that I “get on the same page with language [about evaluation] as soon as possible to enhance communication.” I can try to second-guess what people’s evaluation experience is and what language I should use, and whether I need to start with the basics about evaluation or dive in with something more advanced. However I think what I’ll do is ask them, “What experience have you had with evaluation?” This way I won’t need to make assumptions and it will also give me an idea of whether any past experiences they’ve had with evaluators and evaluation have been good, bad, or just teary-eyed and ugly.
Be of service Rather than making another assumption that people will know what my evaluation kaupapa (agenda) is, I need to walk stakeholders through the philosophy behind my evaluation work (Kaupapa Māori). Most importantly, as Lara states, I need to stress that I’m there to be of service to them. What this means for me is more flexibility – around the evaluation methods, ways of working with people, and even who is most appropriate to do this work. For the evaluation to be of use to them, I have to work with them in ways that keep them informed, engaged, and feeling safe. Then the evaluation has to be rigorous and answer the questions they want answered about the programme’s effectiveness.
Most importantly for me is not to take anything for granted. Any things that may go unspoken should be made more explicit so that everyone’s informed about the evaluation process. I’m looking forward to meeting new people and beginning a new evaluation, and finding out how the things I know and the skills I have can interact with the things they know and the skills they have to make some formal assessment of their success.
Contributed by Fiona Cram