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Carrying Out an External Evaluation (Part 3 of 3)

By Patricia Steele
HigherEd Insight


Now that you’ve decided to evaluate and hired your external evaluator, how can your program get the most out of the evaluation process? Communication, careful monitoring and feedback, respect for the contract, and an emphasis on institutional learning will help your organization to get the greatest benefit from participating in evaluation.

Hot Tips

Communicate with your evaluator. Strong communication protocols can help your organization to get what you need from your evaluation. The Baltimore Association of Grantmakers, in its very helpful guide, “When and How to Use External Evaluators,"  suggests that you identify a single point of contact in your organization and in the evaluator’s organization to keep information clear and flowing efficiently. If you did not lay out a formal communication protocol in your contract, do so early in the working relationship and put it in writing. For example, will the evaluator send you monthly or quarterly emails updating you on their progress?  Will you hold monthly progress calls? 

Monitor your evaluator’s efforts.  Monitor the evaluator’s efforts outside of just deliverables for signs that the evaluator is doing a good job. “When and How to Use External Evaluators" suggests that you ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the evaluator seem to be conducting the evaluation in an organized manner?
  • What is their strategy for working with respondents and/or grantees?  Does the strategy seem friendly and culturally responsive?
  • Is the evaluator fulfilling the terms of the contract and conducting the tasks that they promised to compete?  Are you comfortable with the way in which they are doing the work?

Respect your agreement with the evaluator. Grantmakers Northwest also offer a useful resource for working with evaluators in “Using an Outside Evaluator.” They point out that asking for changes in or addition to the scope of work you and your evaluator agreed to takes resources, so consider any changes carefully before requesting them. If you have agreed to provide information to the evaluator so that they may do their job, such as potential respondent lists and contact information, do so in an organized and timely manner. If major changes are needed, consider asking the evaluator to renegotiate the scope of work and the budget. 

Review deliverables carefully. Spend time promptly reading and thinking about any deliverables your evaluator provides to you. Involve colleagues in the process. Develop a list of all questions, concerns, and suggestions that arise from your review and schedule a discussion with the evaluator to discuss them. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions or push for clarification and revisions. Evaluators want and need your feedback to make sure they get the story right.

Use the evaluation to learn and build capacity in your organization. Good evaluations provide information your organization can use internally to improve programs. They can provide answers to the research questions outlined when the evaluation was developed as well as offer recommendations and technical assistance for further work. Use the evaluation as a basis for discussions among staff to talk about how to improve your program. Evaluators can often provide assistance to help make such discussions productive.

Share what you learn with stakeholders. Provide stakeholders with evaluation findings and include them in discussions of implications for future work. Tailor the message you share based on the stakeholder group. For example, evalution findings can be shared through:

  • Personal communication
  • Formal reports
  • Newsletters and bulletins
  • Issue briefs
  • Web site
  • Presentations/webinars
  • Workshops

Don’t forget to share your information with current and potential funders as a development technique.

Learn more about managing an evaluation. The US Department of Health and Human Services has published a guide with great tips on managing and benefitting from an evaluation.

Tell Us More

If your organization or project has worked with an external evaluator, what helped you most to get what you wanted out of the relationship? What advice would you give others going through the process for the first time? 

Note: HigherEd Insight serves as the independent evaluator for Lumina Foundation's adult college completion strategy.

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