Higher Ed Insight

How to find a good evaluator?


Many leaders of organizations seek support from an evaluation professional. Investing in evaluation makes sense: resources are scarce and you want to make sure that your investments make an impact. In some cases, you may have pressure from boards or other stakeholders to have evaluators external to the organization. Or perhaps, you’re lucky enough to be a part of an organization where organizational learning is such a high value that evaluation is encouraged in your ongoing work. Whatever the reason, where do you begin?

Finding a good evaluator—one who is the right fit for your particular organization or project—is critical to having a successful evaluation experience.

Your Scope of Work

It is important to begin with crafting a proposed scope of work that outlines your need(s). At a minimum, you should devote some time to delineating the following:

  • What are you trying to learn from this evaluation? List two or three high-level questions that, if properly addressed, would denote a successful outcome.
  • What time-frame parameters do you have for the evaluation? Are you confined by a board meeting report? Or a funding deadline, planning cycle, or annual publicity event?
  • What level of investment do you have in mind for this project? If you know your resources are limited, indicate the funding cap on the evaluation work so that respondents can propose research approaches that conserve spending.
  • Is a particular expertise required for the evaluation, such as: content area knowledge, unique methodological expertise, or experience with special populations (for example, individuals with disabilities, specific racial/ethnic groups, or geographic areas with distinctive needs)?
  • Are there specific values that are important to your organization or project that should be specified? This will help identify an evaluator that is well aligned with your values.

Finding the Right Evaluator for You

Once you’ve defined your scope of work, it’s time to seek out support. Fortunately, many options are available. Evaluators come in many forms—independent consultants, small to large private companies, small to large nonprofit research organizations, and academic affiliated faculty or centers at colleges and universities. One is not necessarily better than the other. Rather, it’s most important to find a good match and positive relationship with an evaluator who you feel that you can trust and who demonstrates an ability to listen to your specific needs.

So where can you find the right person or team of evaluators? Always ask if your evaluation candidates are members of the American Evaluation Association, the primary professional standards organization for the field.

Additionally, consider the following approaches:

  • Ask for recommendations from colleagues in similar organizations.
  • If you work in a particular field, check out conference proceedings or agendas to identify evaluators who have presented work in a related area.
  • Use the American Evaluation Association’s online “Find an Evaluator” tool.
  • Ask funders or other philanthropic organizations that work with many evaluators for recommendations.
  • Check out your nearby college or university campus. Often, you can find evaluation departments within the colleges of education, psychology, sociology, and public or health policy.

Step-by-Step

If evaluation is new for you or your organization, you can find an excellent step-by-step guide provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Be sure to learn about potential evaluators’ past relevant experience, ask about references, and review their past work. Most importantly, meet with the evaluators by video conference to get a better sense of how they work with their clients and how they will ensure that you get the learning you need out of your evaluation investment.

If you have any further questions, we’re always here to help. Please feel free to reach out to us.