Can we take a minute or two to talk about scope creep in evaluation?
I know this is a common talking point in project management across the consulting world, but I would like to narrow it down to state how it also affects our work in program evaluation.
Often times, we work on fixed, small, tight budgets, and timelines with a few set of deliverables and try to scope out the work before we begin work. However, scope creep can happen at any point during the evaluation’s life span and sometimes, we end up getting caught in the web.
There is anger and anxiety among the team members, not to mention the unpaid billable hours that the team puts in, and the lurking question: Is it going to satisfy the client after all or will there be more?
In my experience, here a few common reasons why scope creep can happen in program evaluation:
1. Unclear or absence of an approved and mutually agreed upon scope of work for evaluation.
2. Unclear or absence of clearly articulated program goals and objectives; or a program and evaluation logic model.
3. Failure to collaborate with an evaluator at the time of program planning, developing a logic model, and an evaluation plan (with estimated hours, timelines, and deliverables).
4. Unrealistic expectations of an evaluation in general or a lack of understanding of how evaluation works (budgeting, labor, time, etc.)
5. Lack of open communication with the evaluator on project changes, requirements, and hence, evaluation needs/expectations.
6. Not involving pertinent stakeholders in the program design and evaluation process; irregular/late feedback to the evaluator.
7. (Just being a creep.) Just because……!
1. Inability or a hesitance to push back (not being able to say no or negotiate with the client) for the fear of losing a contract or spoiling a relationship.
2. Not taking the time to fully understand the program’s goals, objectives, and designing the scope of work that is aligned well.
3. Poor/ inadequate budgeting (to gain points to win a contract).
4. Poor/irregular communication with the client (if you don’t ask, you won’t know).
5. You are a glutton for punishment! (Had to add this one.)
Not going to lie, but, I have made adjustments to an evaluation scope of work on a few occasions when I realized that a certain (new) data collection source will likely provide deeper insights into the program that I hadn’t thought of earlier. And in a few instances, the clients have agreed to have missed adding a few details to the SOW and willingly re-negotiated the evaluation budget to add hours to our contracts. There is some give or take in our work.
So, when you sense a scope creep in your project, pause, communicate with your team and the client immediately to think and talk it through.
A majority of the times, they are amenable to understanding how evaluation really works and will likely re-negotiate the hours on a contract to meet all the deadlines and deliverables.