Dr. Tim Heaton, Department of Sociology
Meeting the objectives
In some respects, we did not achieve all of the goals of the proposed work, but in other ways this project lead to the development of a new program that has been a success. The first objective was to review the literature on evaluation. This phase of the proposal was completed as proposed. Students searched a variety of journal articles and classified published articles according to the type of organization, the type of project, research method used, and conclusions. This review confirmed our sense that a wide variety of organizations do evaluation, but that there is not a strong sense of which methods should be used in different circumstances.
The next step was not completed. We did get some evaluations from the InterAmerican Foundation and OXFAM. These did not have sufficient data for our analysis. Students also did informal interviews with some local NGOs, but a questionnaire was not designed. Instead, it seemed more useful to move in a different direction as described below.
At the same time that we were initiating this project, the Sociology Department and the International Studies Minor were placing increased emphasis on evaluation. A new course was added to the sociology curriculum and arrangements were made to have students help NGO’s with evaluation. Two of the students who helped initiate our proposal did summer internships providing assistance in NGO evaluation. Since that time, a more formal structure has been created to facilitate student involvement in evaluation. This organization is called PEAT. It is supported by the Department of Sociology, the Kennedy Center and the International Studies Minor. So far, 14 students have participated in PEAT internships and several more are planning to participate this summer.
The mentoring environment
The initial mentoring took place in faculty offices. Students did most of the work in the library. Unfortunately, they got involved in another project and did not complete the second phase of the research. As the project turned into more direct student involvement in evaluation, the environment shifted to offices of local NGOs and then to research in the field. Honestly, these are the best environments for students to get hands on experience learning about evaluation.
Collin Smith and Doug Wendt were the students who initiated the project. They both participated in summer evaluation internships. Later, Matt Cox and Kendall Blust became involved in the internships and finished a paper based on student experience. These four students were supported by the research funds. The Sociology Department also supported several other students in PEAT internships.
Kendal and Matt finished the paper that Collin and Doug had started. The paper was presented at the premier conference on evaluation in the U.S. in San Antonio last year. Students also presented evaluation reports to Ascend Alliance and to Ouelessebougou Utah Alliance.
Smaller NGOs see the value of evaluation, but lack the resources to use established evaluation methodology. Students can be an important resource in that they have the training and commitment to help with evaluation. But using students creates several challenges because they do not have the full range of skills needed, they cannot be involved for a long period of time, and the NGO does not always give them full support. PEAT continues to search for solutions to these challenges.
Most of the money was spend on wages for the four students who were involved. The remainder was spent on airfare so that students could participate in the evaluation internships. I do not have an exact breakdown because funds from the Sociology Department were also used to cover these two expenses.