It seems like the month of April is opening up a few “firsts again” for me in over two years. Earlier this week, I completed my first in-person site visit to the Charm City to observe students making things for an NSF-funded AISL grant being run by the good people at Digital Harbor Foundation. Suffice it to say, it was a very productive trip and I learned a lot from observing the activities and talking to the people who run the program. Mind you, some things simply cannot be captured via a survey alone.
This post is not so much about what I observed (perhaps, another post for another day) but some of the Dos and Don’ts of conducting evaluation site visits.
Drawing from my academic and field work training gained from minoring in Agriculture extension education (India) and Applied Sociology and Research Methods (US), here are a few handy tips:
Before the visit
1. Always inform via email/call and seek prior permission from the site staff and project team members about your site visit.
2. State the purpose/objectives of your visit; how long do you intend to be on site, what would you likely be observing (if you know what to look for).
3. Mention if you will be only observing or also conducting formal/informal interviews of the participants, instructors, project team members, etc.
4. Ask about COVID-check ins/regulations, if any, in place (also, masking mandates and considerations).
During the visit
1. Be a participant observer (active or passive depending on your role/preference and the project’s contexts)
Heard about, “Being a fly on the wall?”
2. Seek full consent (verbal or written-preferred) before talking any pictures of the participants and instructors.
Ask if including a picture of their face is permissible? (do they have photo releases?)
Same goes for recording the conversations too. (do you have their consent?)
3. Set aside some time (typically at the end) to formally or informally talk to the participants, instructors, and staff as applicable (be very mindful of their time/space and do not obstruct any on-site activities). In some cases, a structured focus group can be done too.
4. Write up your notes and reflections within a day or two. Share them with your team members and/or project team, as appropriate.
5. Send a short thank you note after the site visit to the project team.
Personally, when visiting a site for the first time, I try to take some packed/fully covered/sealed food items (chocolates are great!).
Oh and do wear very comfortable shoes and clothes. Plan to bring a warm piece of clothing as temperatures can vary in a room/location.
Did I miss anything?