I have been pondering what makes an evaluation expert? It comes back a little to the age old debate over academics versus practitioners and has been sparked by some evaluation tenders that I have been looking at.
With a PhD that focused on evaluation practice, and experience of conducting and devising methodologies for several evaluations, I could be considered an evaluation expert. Yet, is this to say that a consultant with dozens of evaluations completed is any more, or less, of an expert?
- Academics bring: research excellence, experience, knowledge from theory (likely to be more so than consultants), a concern for quality to protect the university reputation, extra resource through student researchers, other commitments to their institution, academics are well-linked and can often access to experts in other areas
- Consultants bring: research knowledge, evaluation experience (perhaps more so than academics), other commitments to their other clients, business acumen.
Finding your evaluation expert may mean looking to a university, or it may not.
For anyone requiring an evaluation I would suggest:
- Do look to consider the benefits of numerous types of evaluators (self employed consultants, larger private consultancies, universities) and discuss with them their research approach to ensure that it fits your needs;
- Do ask for references or examples of work previously conducted. This might not just be evaluation research, there are some very strong academics and researchers who may not be experienced in evaluation, but who can use research principles effectively;
- Do try and involve your local university for advice or when producing a tender for the research work (not necessarily the evaluation itself), universities are strong in research, and evaluation is research (I am happy to work with organisations to ensure that a strong evaluation brief is created);
- Do consider alternative options, perhaps discuss how a student could conduct your evaluation. A PhD studentship might be one solution, meaning that you sponsor a student to complete their PhD study, and in return you gain a research-savvy individual who will conduct your evaluation research over a period to suit you (around 3 years).