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Using Evaluations To Infuse Innovations

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Marvin Pichla
May 30, 2020

Using evaluations to infuse innovations into timely, progressive and continuous public service opportunities can be one of the greatest return-on-investment strategies for every agency or organization. Typically, it is standard business procedure to have policy on obtaining evaluation/client customer feedback on most public service programs. Whether the service is child protection, workforce development, water quality, education or just about the ability to find contact information on the various forms of governmental assistance, routinely conducting some form of evaluation/satisfaction survey is required. So, let’s assume you take all the required steps to gather packets of public service feedback…what happens next? Does your organization instantly (i.e. within the next 30 days) review and analyze the evaluation data? Do you assemble a strategic continuous improvement committee to develop evaluation-driven creative service solutions that will be implemented over the next 90 days, six months or one year? Or does the evaluation document find a suitable place on the office shelf?

Example-based learning was my key factor in gaining personal insight regarding the extensive systems development value of quality evaluations. Early in my public service work experiences the focus was on the introductory side of evaluation when attempting to pilot test or offer a demonstration project to improve a public program. And no matter our innovative intent, our organization/agency was not permitted to ignore or avoid regulatory public sector programming evaluation. However, our underlying goal was always to convince evaluators to appropriately update program measurement tools in an innovative way to correspond with the creative service designs that we were offering. Unfortunately, in most circumstances our suggestions were not implemented. Instead our new, creative, innovation-driven public service initiatives were measured by historic, traditional documents…and “by-the-book” evaluation officials.

A more instructional approach for promoting using evaluations to infuse innovations came later in my career as I assisted in high level, evaluation-only professional projects. During these times it was exclusively necessary to abide by the governmental evaluation guide and assess an initiative based on projected data and designs that were specifically agreed upon at the onset. Any allowances for flexibility and/or adjustments without “prior-approval” were not part of the evaluation service delivery plan-of-action. It was extremely frustrating to not be able to engage in an enthusiastic conversation on how simple innovative adjustments would/could have improved the project(s). However, the evolving realization of the continuous improvement potential of the multiple evaluation findings, both good and bad, was tremendous.

With these example-based learning points in mind, it is time to discuss the factors and possible methods of using evaluations to infuse innovations into future public service programming! Initially, think in depth about the role agency leaders assign evaluators that visit your office/organization. Are they considered just a necessary function of a public funded program? Is there an organization-wide sense of welcome, openness and inclusion? Are all staff notified of their presence and purpose? Does anyone set time aside to orientate or re-orientate the evaluators about organizational priorities, staff changes, and why/what makes your organization SPECIAL?

Right from the beginning of any evaluation project, a practice of professional inclusion must be followed to ensure both parties understand how your group may be using evaluations to infuse innovations going forward. The process must be defined. For example, it should be stated that all data collected, client-customer interviews and findings will be strategically used to formalize agency continuous improvements and more innovative services. Evaluators and agencies often fail to “progressive-ize” their two-way expectations of the evaluation effort. Everyone must therefore commit to highlight the benefits for using evaluations to infuse innovations everyway, everyday…right from the beginning.

Next it is an important assessment activity for evaluators to feel what public service staff feel. No matter if it is a regular fiscal evaluation or a street-level review, seeing first-hand the client/customers served, how assistance is provided, the funding use and the multiple processes required for regulatory compliance can all be appropriate awareness/understandable moments for all involved in the evaluation process. Unfortunately, those providing the evaluation service have traditionally not experienced the public service responsibilities demanded on the front-line and this form of professional knowledge is not obtained in a workshop or formal training. Therefore, quality evaluation-to-innovation recommendations can only be successfully achieved based on mutual, full program service understanding.

Finally, one of the key elements of prioritizing using evaluations to infuse innovations is based in the preparation of the final evaluation report. I believe it is critical for evaluators to “switch chairs” for a moment and consider the agency/organization audience. Is the report wording/delivery interpretation-easy or regulatory-difficult? Is it possible to listen to the evaluation and not just read through it? Would those on the front-line, management and administrative staffing levels feel some form of innovation-generation from the context of the report?

Positively, progressively addressing each of these questions during every evaluation project will result in more regularly using evaluations to infuse innovations into future public service initiatives. Creatively selecting areas of continuous improvement and gaining universal support will be the key.

Author: Marvin N. Pichla, Ph.D., is the owner and creative adviser of Inspiring Innovations, Inc. Sharing his unique entrepreneurship and innovation in public service experience, Marv consults with public and private business, education and community organizations to develop new and different problem-solving methods through real-life, example-based learning. Email: [email protected], @TRIPLEIIITIME

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