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Walking the Talk with Michele Schmidt

As 2017 comes to a close, it is important for evaluators to reflect inward on the values we share, and ensure our practices continue to align with these values. Here are some reflections on ways that my evaluation work has embodied AEA’s values and ways that I may continuously improve.

AEA members value “excellence in evaluation practice.” In recent years, many of my projects have focused on evaluating child welfare programs, such as support services for kinship caregivers who are taking care of a relative’s children, or a home visiting program that supports families to improve parenting skills and promote early childhood development. While I can easily get caught up in “evaluator talk” of identifying reliable and valid instruments that measure specific outcome domains, or analyzing aggregated program data, it is important to remember why we strive for excellence in our evaluation practice. At the heart of these projects are the children and families whom they serve. While I don’t provide direct services to these families, I feel I can impact them by providing high quality evaluation services. These projects utilize a mixed-methods approach that includes process, outcome, fidelity, and cost analysis components. Program staff are consistently telling me that by reviewing evaluation results with them on a periodic basis, this reflective practice helps them identify and celebrate their strengths, as well as brainstorm creative ways to improve programming. It is my hope that by providing excellence in evaluation practice these families will ultimately be better served and achieve the best possible outcomes.  

AEA members value “utilization of evaluation findings.” This specifically rings true to my evaluation practice. At LeCroy & Milligan Associates, our evaluation firm strives to provide program evaluation that is innovative, research-driven, practical, and useful. Behind every grant proposal or evaluation plan, regardless of the focus area, our underlying goal is to provide services that enable stakeholders and clients to document outcomes, provide accountability, and engage in continuous program improvement. Through transparent communication and forging strong client relationships, I value utilizing a collaborative and participative approach to evaluation. This allows clients to see the value of evaluation results as helping them to make data-driven decisions for program improvement.

AEA members value “inclusion and diversity in the evaluation community.” For the past three years, I have served as president of the Arizona Evaluation Network (AZENet), first as President-Elect, then President, and now Immediate Past President. Each year brought a new title, as well as a shift in my responsibilities. My favorite responsibility, although the most exhausting and time consuming, was planning our AZENet Spring Conference in 2016. Our Board felt it was important for our local AEA affiliate to host a conference that would have a wide draw of evaluators from across Arizona and the surrounding states. We offered a two-day event that included both a general conference and a more in-depth workshop, so evaluators could participate in one or both of the events. A two-day event also encouraged out-of-town travelers to make the trip for this more expansive professional development and networking opportunity. Every year, the AZENet Board has utilized these and other lessons learned to continually improve and diversify our professional development offerings in service to our local and regional evaluation community.

I encourage everyone to intentionally take a moment to reflect on how AEA’s core value statements (i-vi) have impacted your work and practice. Parallel to the reflective process that we facilitate with program staff, I encourage our evaluation community to take this opportunity to celebrate our successes and identify ways that we may continually improve our practices.  

Michele Cranwell Schmidt, MPA, is a Senior Evaluation Associate at LeCroy & Milligan Associates, Inc., a full service consulting firm located in Tucson, Arizona, that specializes in program evaluation, technical assistance and training that is innovative, research-driven, practical, and useful. She has worked in the field of evaluation for over 18 years in the areas of child welfare and social services; home visitation and early childhood education; and collaboration utilizing the Collective Impact approach. She is the 2017 Immediate Past President of the Arizona Evaluation Network, a local AEA Affiliate, and a member of the American Evaluation Association’s Qualitative and Mixed Methods Evaluation TIGs.

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