AEA2014: Internal v. External Evaluator Perspecitves

By Brigitte Scott, Evaluation and Research Specialist for the Military Families Learning Network

Greetings! I’d like to use this blog post to introduce myself as the new Southern Region rep for the AEA Extension Education Evaluation Topical Interest Group (TIG) Board, and to share some thoughts from #eval14 as well.

I have been working with the Military Families Learning Network (MFLN) as the evaluation and research lead for almost a year now. Outside of my “intro” evaluation work during my post-doc, this is my first professional evaluation position. My graduate degrees are in curriculum and instruction, and I have worked extensively with qualitative research methodologies. As an educator and a researcher, I am hard-wired for an ethic of care in my evaluation work, and I have a very high tolerance for complexity and “messiness.” All of these things greatly inform my work with MFLN.

I am an internal evaluator, and as such, I’m a part of the MFLN leadership team, have some supervisory responsibilities, and have a heavy hand in processes across the network. Evaluation permeates all that I do within the MFLN. And while I have often been referred to as the “one-(wo)man evaluation pop-up-shop” for the MFLN, my goal is to support evaluation and evaluative thinking as nested activities within the daily processes of all the individuals who are a part of our learning network. I know I speak for my MFLN colleagues when I say we are each committed to our work, to the communities we serve, and to the MFLN mission. We want to do the best we can do as professionals because we believe in our work and we believe in the value of Cooperative Extension.

With all this in mind, I would say one notable impression #eval14 made on me is related to the impact internal and external evaluation perspectives bring to our work—and what this means for evaluation in Cooperative Extension context. Although I’m aware that perhaps the majority of evaluators work from an external perspective, this was the first time I had a firm sense of what the external evaluation perspective looks and sounds like “on the ground.” I heard a lot of terms like “treatment,” “randomized control,” and “intervention.” Of course, these aren’t new terms for me in the context of education research or evaluation. And certainly these terms and their methodologies and paradigms have their place in evaluation work. But the thought of using these terms (and their accompanying methodologies) in my work felt . . . jarring. I know that not all Extension evaluators are internal to the programs they evaluate. But I’m thinking that as Extension professionals, we all have a certain level of “buy-in” and belief in the Cooperative Extension System, what it stands for, and what we do collectively for and within our communities. I would venture to say that as we work within our communities, we have a certain involvement that transcends, even complicates, our evaluation work. Though this external “rhetoric” prompted a certain type of reaction in me, it also reminded me of how susceptible to (positive) bias I can be as an internal evaluator to work that I believe in and am invested in intellectually and programmatically. It was a strange new entre for me into reflexive thinking on my own evaluation practice. But there it was. And I wonder, from all of you: What do you think? How does your commitment to the mission and values of Extension “flavor” your evaluation work? How does your disciplinary background, and even your own professional “positioning” impact your methodologies? Your findings? Your evaluation reports?

It was great meeting some of you at the Extension Education Evaluation (EEE) TIG meeting, and as I understand, it won’t be long before I’ll be helping to review EEE submissions for #eval15. I look forward to getting to know you all and the work that you do not only through our AEA TIG, but also in our collective work as evaluators within Cooperative Extension. Feel free to connect at any time, and if you are attending NAEPSDP (the National Association of Extension Program and Staff Development Professionals) in December in San Antonio, please look for me! We’ll grab a coffee and wax reflexive…!


Until then,

Brigitte Scott