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Evaluation Methods for Public Engagement Projects

Updated on: Aug 14th, 2012
Data Visualization
Collage of a bar chart, people, arrow, computer and calendar.

Today’s guest commentary is from Eric Abdullateef, the friendliest evaluator you’ll ever meet. I met Eric at the American Evaluation Association’s conference last fall and was thrilled to learn that he was a fellow Washingtonian. Although we see each other at the Washington Evaluators monthly board meetings, I find myself making up frequent excuses to see his smiling face and hear tales of his evaluation adventures. I hope you enjoy learning about one of Eric’s recent projects. — Ann


Head shot of Eric Abdullateef.

Eric Abdullateef

Hi I’m Eric Abdullateef, and I recently worked on a study of the Horn of Africa Relief public engagement campaign in the context of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) FWD, which stands for Famine-War-Drought Relief. I started asking myself, how do social media messages during the heightened political discourse of a presidential campaign affect what the American public knows and feels about USAID and American’s role in the world?

Evaluation offers several ways to assess media messages and political discourse, and the evaluation process is useful for a variety of situations. Like:

  • For academics: Who want to identify difficulties in the audience research process and ways to improve the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data.
  • For evaluation practitioners: Trying to surmount practical barriers to conducting and evaluating engagement processes.
  • For public engagement campaigners: These types of campaigns promote reflection and debate within the donor community around issues related to the ethics and effectiveness of their domestic communications. Donors need to basically sort out which of the follow two main lines of effort, education or advocacy, will yield the best results.
  • When there are limited resources: Assessment takes on increased significance in times of limited resources. In an era of budget tightening, the battle over resources may come down to accountability for how effective past allocations of resources have been spent. It is critical that agencies comprehensively measure the performance of their strategic communication efforts to understand which efforts are most effective and, in turn, determine how to make most efficient use of limited resources.
  • When our understanding of the public’s sentiment is cloudy: Finally, assessment is important given the nebulous nature of public knowledge and sentiment, especially on international issues. Studies on U.S. public opinion on international development assistance have shown that while Americans generally favor humanitarian aid, they have very little idea how much money is allocated to aid programs (Council on Foreign Relations, 2009).

My project involved rapid assessment procedures, which helped me tease out the complexity of public attitudes towards foreign aid and USAID efforts to reshape them against the backdrop of best practice, political economy and a rich body of literature on American foreign affairs attitudes.

Have you ever worked on a knowledge, attitude and behavior change interventions like this one? How was the evaluation useful and valuable during that project?

— Eric Abdullateef

More about Eric Abdullateef
My north star is an unwavering belief that big paradoxes can be solved, even our most daunting threats defeated. Examining things from all sides, relying on solid evidence and weighting cases on their facts are important aspects of how I make decisions and exercise judgment. I come from an exploratory data analysis tradition. I am a positivist with people centered and appreciative ethos. I’m committed to improving the quality and timeliness of data collection for fiduciary responsibility and for organizational accountability. A humanitarian heart and a deep sense of social responsibility animate me.

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