Are you evaluating your program? Ask the stakeholders!

Julie Huetteman, Ph.D., is the Strategic Initiatives Coordinator at Purdue Extension. She is serving as the National Association of Extension Program and Staff Development Professionals (NAEPSDP) eXtension Fellow for 2017.

My role as 2017 eXtension NAEPSDP Fellow for Program Evaluation was launched with the Diversity and Inclusion Issue Corps (now called the Impact Collaborative) in Cincinnati. Since then, I have attended online sessions for those projects to share progress, challenges, and accomplishments. In addition, I have been included on the Corps evaluation team to learn of feedback from project teams.

A theme in this feedback was “stakeholder” involvement expressed as 1) key to their program goals; 2) instrumental to providing external input, perspective and support for their program; and 3) important in their next steps to move forward in their program planning, implementation and evaluation efforts.

In my online interactions with project teams, I found myself repeating, “Have you asked them?” I reminded many to “keep asking questions” of their stakeholders, audience, participants, and attendees to connect to those perspectives, interests, and insights.

We don’t have to have all the answers. Instead, consider asking questions of stakeholders to get those answers.

In education, the “expert” typically shares information or content. But do we know what is of interest to attendees? Do stakeholders understand what is being shared? Is the program of value to participants? How did the audience benefit from taking part in activities? Here is the break: We don’t have to have all the answers. Instead, consider asking questions of stakeholders to get those answers.

A lot is involved in planning, implementing, evaluating and reporting Extension programs, and we want to do the best we can. So, consider asking questions throughout and use feedback to inform your decisions.

  • Are you planning activities that encourage attendees to be active, involved and engaged? Check on current research for best practices, then ask the intended audience: “What activities would you find interesting to do?”
  • When deciding which topics are most important, check the literature, then ask a couple representatives of your future audience: “What topics are important to you?”
  • While planning the evaluation, check on practice guidelines, then ask stakeholders: “What questions might be asked to find out the value of this program?” Alternately, give them draft questions and ask: “Which ones work well to capture the value of the program for you?” followed by “How might you state a question to ask about its benefit to participants?”
  • In your outline or curriculum, schedule specific activities to involve and engage participants like asking verbal questions, posting polls, sharing questions on a slide, and so on. Some examples: “Is there anything that you need to be clarified?” “Was this activity helpful?” “What was most valuable to you?” Also: Keep questions going throughout; don’t wait until the end of the program to ask.

Avoid packing your program with so much content that you forget about — or don’t leave time or space for — getting to know the audience.

Ask your audience to 1) help clarify your planning efforts, 2) give feedback during your implementation, and 3) craft questions for debriefing, or 4) review and express the evaluation results. Avoid packing your program with so much content that you forget about — or don’t leave time or space for — getting to know the audience. Include questions to get their ideas on, the perceived value from, and experience of the program. Key questions to get started might be: “Has the program met your needs?” “Is this activity/program of value to you?” “Is this of interest to you?” “What is important to you?” “How have you benefited from this presentation/program?”

Ask questions, then listen. Audience responses and feedback can guide your next steps for planning and evaluation. Make time to get to know, and connect with, the audience by asking about their thoughts or perceptions. Ask your audience – before, during and after your program – so that their perspective is the focus of your planning, activities, and evaluation.

Julie can be contacted at jhuettem@purdue.edu

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