As evaluators we are well accustomed to having the following awkward conversation with family, friends and people we have just met:hello my name is evaluator

Them: “So you work in evaluation hey…what is evaluation exactly”?

Evaluator: “Do you want the long or short version?”

Them: “Give me the short version”

Invariably, ten seconds into the short version their eyes glaze over and we breathe a sigh of relief, thankful that they didn’t ask us for the long version, knowing full well that in two months time they will again turn to us and say: “no but seriously, what is it that you do exactly”.

This is a communication fail – a sign that we probably need to make our explanations clearer and more accessible and, hopefully, more memorable.

Inspired by John LaVelle’s AEA365 blog post last week we decided to ask people around our office how they explain what evaluation is to family and friends. We aimed to develop an explanation that is clear, accessible and maybe even interesting and hopefully avoids the dreaded and awkward eye-glaze .  This is what we came up with:

Government and Non-government organisations use the public’s money to try to make change in the world. Evaluators have the task of determining what change an organisation is trying to achieve with that money and then gathering evidence to determine if the change occurred, whether the change is of value and whether it could have been done with less money.

Evaluators gather this evidence by reading program documents, taking photos or video footage, and conducting interviews, surveys, focus groups and workshops with people who were involved in, or affected by, the program.

Sometimes the evidence is gathered while a program is still running which means the organisation has a chance to improve the way they do things and sometimes it is gathered at the end of the program.

Evaluation has an important role to play in helping us understand how our world works and how we can make our Government and Non-Government programs, and ultimately our world, function better.

If you are an evaluator we would love to hear how you respond when someone asks you “what is evaluation?”.