Working With an Evaluator
A successful evaluation requires a qualified and competent evaluator and a respectful partnership--some might say marriage--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--for example, 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? All of these aspects of choosing and selecting an evaluator are described in Chapter 3 of the Principal Investigator's Guide to Managing Evaluation in Informal STEM Education Projects.
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. All of these aspects of working with an evaluator are described in Chapter 4 the Principal Investigator's Guide to Managing Evaluation in Informal STEM Education Projects.
Locating an evaluator
Several online resources can help you locate an evaluator.
For starters, the InformalScience.org member directory can be filtered to identify evaluators by learning environment, evaluation needs, and content expertise. CAISE does not endorse any individual consultant or firm, and it is your responsibility to determine whether any particular consultant or firm is appropriate for your needs.
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 to. You can find informal STEM projects through the informalscience.org project database, ISE Project Spotlights, The ISE Evidence Wiki, and Exhibitfiles.org. 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 & Aquariums, American Evaluation Association, and Visitor Studies Association.