How can you help people when they are afraid? [Guest post by Elizabeth Silverstein]

Sep 11th, 2012 / Data Visualization /

Hello Evaluation community! My name is Elizabeth Silverstein and I am probably as novice an evaluator as you will ever find. Currently I am a lowly graduate student in Public Affairs in Wisconsin, but have been spending this summer interning for a government agency in DC. It was this internship that introduced me to evaluation, where I finally think I have found an intellectual home.
 While I find most of evaluation fascinating, one aspect of evaluation which continues to worry me is a term we deem in our office “evaluation apprehension.” It represents all of the negative feelings that many clients seem to carry concerning evaluations. I find this idea that clients would be afraid of evaluations both baffling and frightening. For me, evaluation represents the ability to do everything cheaper, faster and more efficiently. Initially, the lack-luster performance of many innovative programs I saw during my study abroad turned me towards the evaluation light. “But wait!” I thought, “if you just thought it through, you could figure out why the new well you built is being used for garbage instead of its intended purpose!” And yet, many people see evaluators as the enemy, as someone who is coming in to tell people what they are doing incorrectly in their program.
My question for the evaluation community is, how can you help people when they are afraid of what you might find? Is this apprehension as widespread as it appears, representing perhaps a greater publicity problem for evaluators? Finally, what is the best way you have found to combat this evaluation apprehension?
— Elizabeth Silverstein

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