0.png In junior high school, did you ever feel like you were alone in this world, that no one really understood you? Well, welcome to the world of evaluation where being an “outsider” can be a good thing! Outside, or external, evaluators have the ability to examine programs with a fresh perspective. In some cases, external evaluators bring more objectivity to the evaluation process as they have not developed expectations about a program’s success prior to the evaluation. External evaluators inherently have limited experience with the specific program to be evaluated. Time and time again, Improve Group staff members say that learning about the programs we evaluate is one of the best parts of our job. For some tips on when an external evaluator might be right for your organization, click here. To effectively evaluate programs as an outsider, we must learn about the program from stakeholders, or people who have a vested interest in a program’s success. (Click here for the EPA’s glossary of the evaluation terms I discuss in this article and many, many more). Each program has many stakeholders; these can include program participants and line staff, funders, the Board of Directors or supervisory staff, government agencies and the general public. Evaluators work with stakeholders to understand the program and develop the evaluation plan. Each group of stakeholders has different evaluation needs; sometimes the needs of one group conflict with the needs of another. Most often, it is not possible to collect all data requested due to time and budgetary constraints. Evaluators prioritize which data will be collected by identifying a primary audience and secondary audiences. The primary audience can be any group of stakeholders. However, the funder is often the primary audience for programs that depend on outside funding. When the evaluation needs of the primary audience have been identified, evaluators must negotiate with the secondary audiences to determine which additional indicators are most important to measure. Effectively balancing stakeholder needs can be the key to a successful evaluation. Ideally, each stakeholder group will have a say in which data are collected and how the data will be used. Note: Some of the information presented here came from an excellent presentation at the 2007 American Evaluation Conference by Kimberly Taylor of Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital. Ms. Taylor is an internal evaluator that beautifully uses and teaches the principles of evaluating like an “outsider.”