My Evaluator Identity: Lessons Learned from the Evaluation 2019 Conference

In my career, I’ve always identified as an educator first.

I have proudly rooted my analytical and consulting practices in my experiences directly serving students, families, schools, and communities.

However, as my career and business have evolved, and as I gained the additional identity of “evaluator,” I always felt that I did not quite fit into that community.

Sure, I have training and experience in quantitative and qualitative data collection, analysis, and reporting.

Sure, I work to help schools, districts, and non-profits complete evaluation projects and build out protocols and procedures for continuing this critical work.

Sure, my job title has even been “Evaluator.” 

Despite these things, something did not click for me on a deep level.

I never doubted my ability to relate to and help my clients with their evaluation needs.

It was the pressure to label what I do or who I am that has caused me a lot of stress.

When I attended previous conferences about research and evaluation, I always encountered career evaluators, whose methodologies were their bread and butter, and who yearned to understand the newest and most advanced statistical methodologies.

That’s not me, and for a long time, I thought that was a problem. 

This past week, I attended the American Evaluation Association‘s Evaluation 2019 conference in Minneapolis.

I was excited to see a number of sessions and activities related to independent consultants and to my other areas of interest in the field — creating data dashboards and evaluating programs serving families, to name a few.

I was looking forward to connecting to new people and meeting up with those whom I already knew.

What I did not expect was an experience that transformed how I see myself within the evaluator community and how I can use my refined identity to better serve my clients. 

Here were my key takeaways: 

I do not have to be an educator OR an evaluator. I can be both — I AM both — and that is what my clients appreciate about me. 

Having my feet firmly planted in two fields gives me a perspective that many evaluators and researchers do not have and a sense of purpose for why this work needs to be done. 

Evaluation comes in so many forms. 

My favorite clients are not the people looking for me to do large-scale, highly-complicated studies. They’re the ones who are figuring out where to start.

Maybe in a few years, they will be ready for more advanced methods or a larger sample size, but for now, they see the importance of evaluating their work and need some support with figuring out where to begin.

This work of capacity-building is what most excites me, and I now see that it fits squarely along a continuum of evaluation, on which all points are valid, important, and potentially transformational.

Just like my clients, I too can evolve and grow my evaluation abilities. 

That is, perhaps, the most fun part of all. Maybe I can start learning how to do social network analysis and incorporate it into my business.

Perhaps I can expand my reach into new audiences, like the informal learning community. I could also just continue to strengthen and enhance the ways that I already serve my clients.

Thinking of my business as malleable — as an opportunity for innovation and as a dynamic, growing entity — is exciting. 

With this realization, it feels like the possibilities are endless for Structured Solutions.

Thanks to AEA and the wonderful people with whom I conversed and interacted this week, I am happily embracing my new all-encompassing identity.

What is your evaluation identity?