Blog Header Test 05 Evaluation – a positive step in the right direction

May 3, 2021

“Every evaluation, no matter how simple, is a positive step in the right direction.”

An interview with Kate Baker, our Evaluation Project Manager, about her enthusiasm for evaluation and why we should all jump in and give it a go.

Read more about Evaluation Building Capacity in the West


Deb: Kate, thanks for agreeing to this participate in this interview!

To be honest, I am curious about what you do. Evaluation sounds like such a “big” and, dare I say it, boring, word. (Sorry!) So what is it that you do and why are you so enthusiastic about it?

Kate: Haha! My role is about helping to build the capacity of individuals and organisations to evaluate their primary prevention work. Essentially evaluation is all about taking time out to reflect on the programs and services we are offering and checking in to make sure they are achieving what we are hoping they will achieve. In our sector this is usually about making a social / health impact in improving people’s lives.

I get excited about it because I believe monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) has the power to do so many things. It helps us to be really clear about what we are aiming for and to make sure that the programs and services we are running are actually meeting people’s needs. It also helps to provide “proof” for what works which can be used to advocate for change at a higher level. Essentially it is about change for the better.

 

Deb: Do you think evaluation work is only for specific personalities?

Kate: I dare say there are probably personalities who are strongly drawn to this work, perhaps more than others. BUT, there are so many components and approaches to evaluation work that can make it really inclusive, where it is about the journey not just the destination. MEL, if done well, can be highly participatory and can help build skills of both staff and program participants.

 

Deb: Can you give us a tangible example of how evaluation has changed a perspective, project, program or team?

Kate: I’ll share an example from our own work at HealthWest – the Working Together with Men initiative. Bringing together men from diverse backgrounds, the project aimed to engage men in the prevention of violence against women. The men participated in training on violence against women, gender equity, project management training and were supported to generate and implement ideas to promote gender equity and prevent violence.

Evaluation of this first phase of the project influenced the way we approached the second phase (Project Momentum); strengthening the project’s accountability to women and helping us to think about allyship as a concept for this work. Since starting this work, evidence about unhealthy masculinity and gender stereotype behaviour has helped support and influence our thinking.

 

Deb: I suspect that deep down, we all grudgingly accept that evaluation is a necessary part of our work. Why do you think it is so difficult for people to do?

Kate: In many ways evaluation is about taking time out to reflect.  Broadly speaking, I think slowing down to do this, is not something we are taught or supported to do in our Western, fast-paced, action-oriented society.

In particular, for our sector, evaluating the impact of our work is a relatively new way of working and change takes time.  Effective evaluation work requires a variety of conditions at multiple levels; the workforce need to have the skills and confidence to do evaluations, however there also needs to be organisational systems and an evaluative, learning culture within organisations for MEL to occur more easily.

Here at HealthWest we are working to build evaluation skills and confidence amongst the primary prevention workforce in Melbourne’s west.  We have begun this through a program of formal training, learning circles and hosting a community of practice. It is important to note, though, that our sector needs to consider the other conditions necessary to enable the workforce to make use of those skills and confidence.

 

Deb: Thanks Kate for sharing your passion with us. Any final words of wisdom for those of us out there wanting to do better at building our own evaluation capacity?

Kate:

  1. Don’t be daunted! Jump in give it a go.  It is the best way to learn.  Every evaluation, no matter how simple, is a positive step in the right direction.
  2. So many of us are learning about evaluation – so let’s lean on and learn from each other.

Interested to know more?

Get in touch with Kate Baker at kate.baker@healthwest.org.au

Read more about Evaluation Building Capacity in the West

Check out the Evaluation Capacity Health Check. This tool helps organisations, teams and partnerships to know if they have what they need in place to evaluate their work and know if their work is making a difference.

Evaluation