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Need An Evaluator? Hire A Wonderer

Need an evaluator? Hire a wonderer

By Sarah Mason and Catherine Randall

Non-profits often ask us what to look for when they hire an evaluator. How do we find the right evaluator? (they ask) What’s the difference between a good evaluator and one who will make us scowl at all evaluators until the end of time? (Ok, that’s an exaggeration).  

This question arises, in part, because US evaluators aren’t credentialed and training programs aren’t accredited. This makes it hard to assess the qualifications and credibility of prospective evaluation candidates. 

The credentialing/accreditation debate is important, there’s no doubt about that. However, it’s not what we’d like to get into today.  

Instead, we want to throw something new into the mix. 

The standard

When hiring an evaluator, many commissioners jump first to methodological skill. Does an evaluator have training and experience in a range of research and evaluation methods? 

Many also might jump to content and context knowledge: is the prospective evaluator an expert in my content area (e.g., public health, STEM education)? Are they knowledgeable about our local context? 

Of course, these are key. Also important is an evaluator’s ability to engage, communicate and coordinate with you and your staff. There’s no doubt about that

The new

Beyond all of this, we’d like to suggest a new criterion for selecting an evaluator—their capacity to wonder. 

This idea of evaluators as wonderers came out of a recent team planning session. Our team talking about how to better understand the contexts in which we work and Assistant Director Joey Rutherford proposed a very simple answer. We wonder. We’re curious. We care enough to ask questions. 

By positioning evaluators as wonderers, it means we’re charging evaluators with responsibility for answering questions like “what’s going on here? How did we get here? What do we do now?” When evaluators are wonderers, it’s not enough to just report on funder-specified questions. Instead, they dig deeper, and wider to really understand context. 

Here’s what we’re proposing 

If you need to hire an evaluator, look at their methodological skills. Look at their disciplinary experience. Pay attention to their knowledge of your context and their interpersonal skills. But go further. Consider: 

  • What questions do they ask you? Do they want to know what you’re curious about—what you want to learn? 
  • Are they only interested in reporting on donor objectives or do they really want to understand you, your needs and your learning goals? 
  • What—if anything—are they curious about? 
  • Are they going to dig deeper? 

Choose someone who wants to know about how you, your team, and your community tick. 

Do yourself a favor. Hire a wonderer. 

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