Last day of July. I thought I was done with my 3-questions and answers blogs this month.
However, I received a couple of similarly-worded/intended questions this past week. I feel compelled to respond and close the loop:
Are there specific academic degrees or technical skills that are more appropriate to become an evaluator?
My response is a bit open-ended. But, honestly, what I am saying here is that it depends.
In my earlier posts—Gentle Tips for New and Seasoned Evaluators Looking for Jobs, How Do I Find Or Get My First Evaluation Job, and a two-questions piece, Who Will Hire and Train A Novice and Who Will Hire A Career Switcher, I talked about the vastness of the field of evaluation—both people and their current (or past) academic preparation / professions that have led them to the field of evaluation successfully.
Evaluators are an eclectic bunch of people.
However, I would like to (re-)emphasize that since evaluation work entails a fair amount of on-and-off field data collection, coding, analyses, data interpretation, and report writing–most of the time customized to the clients/stakeholders need(s)—having some prior training and field experience in
1) Developing good research questions that are well aligned with the project’s goals and objectives
2) Developing a decent logic model
3) Understanding and employing research methods—both qualitative and quantitative, and
4) Having a good understanding and application of statistical techniques are very helpful.
Across the board, I have known evaluators with degrees/specializations in:
1) Social Science (Psychology, Economics, Sociology, Anthropology, Counseling)
2) Public health
5) International Affairs and Public Policy
6) Agricultural Sciences
7) Pilots and Others
Having prior knowledge also doesn’t mean that you won’t or can’t learn new things on the job. We all do. By the same token, not having any/all of the above abilities prior before having an evaluation job is not a big negative that will prevent you from getting an evaluation job, it just means that you may have some learning to do.
For instance, at a small, client-oriented, fast-paced company such as mine, it’s a bit challenging to train staff while all of us are trying to complete our projects and produce reports. Therefore, for us, it’s a general expectation for the team member to come prepared in conducting research/evaluation in the field and be ready to start working on a project from day 1.
Learn On the Job.
This is to not discount that there won’t be opportunities to learn on the job by
1) Attending professional development training courses or workshops
2) Learning how to write grant proposals
3) Learning to use new software tool.
In addition to having technical research skills, as a consulting firm, I like to have team members who have strong communication and interpersonal skills so they can work well with other team members as well as our clients.
I can’t emphasize this enough, but reading on evaluation theories and how to apply them within the scope of an evaluation study is essential.
As evaluators, we write a lot of reports. Developing a good report that is both meaningful as well as that yields in actions on part of the client can be attained via practice and experience.
I have often wondered what if I had taken a few classes in technical writing (maybe I still should) or had a degree in creative writing, would that have helped my writing skills further?
As an agriculture graduate, what I think has helped me as an evaluator, is taking a more realistic path and point of view of evaluation processes by assessing the contexts and mechanisms as well as doing evaluation with a more scientific bend of mind. I guess, I’ve never been an outcome-only person. Is that what is needed to be an evaluator? I am not sure but I think it helps my ways of knowing, learning, and being a realist evaluator.
Be Curious. Be A Sponge.