Working with an Evaluator

A successful evaluation requires a qualified and competent evaluator and a respectful partnership between the evaluator and the project team. Your evaluator will influence the shape of the evaluation plan and the results that derive from its implementation. Choosing an evaluator wisely means identifying project requirements. Does the evaluator have experience with culturally-responsive or equity-focused evaluation? Does the project require formative evaluation? Summative evaluation? Or both? Does it need someone familiar with a particular subject matter or human culture? Will an evaluation firm or an independent contractor be most appropriate–or might the needed expertise be available “in-house?” Should the evaluator live nearby? What specific evaluation skills are required–qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-methods?

Once the project design/evaluator team is formed the real work begins! The team needs to work closely together throughout all phases of project development, which might include front-end evaluation, formative evaluation, remedial evaluation, summative evaluation, and dissemination of evaluation results. The process requires managing relationships, leveraging expertise, setting realistic expectations, and ensuring effective communication. For example, the evaluator must have the most up-to-date copy of the project plan and any adjustments to goals, objectives, budget, timeline, or staffing. The team needs to work hand-in-hand as project components and/or activities are developed, tested, implemented, and reflected upon. The team also needs to work together to clarify evaluation methods and measures and to ensure that the resulting data will be useful to the team and the informal STEM education field. 

Locating an evaluator

Several online resources can help you locate an evaluator.

The American Evaluation Association offers a comprehensive database for finding evaluators. Another directory, the People Connector Directory, can be found through STELAR, the NSF-ITEST Resource Center

Another method for locating an evaluator is to get recommendations from practitioners who have implemented projects similar. You can find examples of informal STEM projects through Project Spotlights. These are written with the interests, needs, and institutional settings of informal STEM educators in mind. 

Finally, you can look through agendas of professional conferences that focus on informal STEM education, for example, those of the Association of Science-Technology Centers, American Alliance of Museums, Association of Zoos & AquariumsAmerican Evaluation Association, and Visitor Studies Association.