What is “Ask the Evaluators”?

by Jessica Sperling, PhD, Manager, Evaluation & Engagement at Duke University’s Social Science Research Institute

*This is the first post in our new “Ask the Evaluators!” series. Ask the Evaluators! is a new series that explores real-world assessment of recent media projects, offering practical advice to help you make informed decisions about what can be measured, and good questions to ask along the way. Stay tuned for future posts and click here to see all of the articles, including “Evaluating Wheelbarrows: Contagion by Johanna Blakely, PhD.*

You are a media funder, media maker, or advocate using media to advance a cause. Of course, you want to know if your work is making a difference – but that’s easier said than done. This undertaking can be overwhelming and seemingly impossible for myriad reasons: your lack of experience with or training in evaluation and assessment; the vast (or often not-fully-understood) range of methods for assessing the contributions of stories; the difficulty of developing the right questions to ask about how stories contribute to social change; and even the influence of “metrics mania,” given that media metrics can’t always fully answer these questions. 

We’re here to help.

Meet HDWK/Learn

WHAT are we doing, and WHY?

The HDWK/Learn team, comprised of experts in evaluation and assessment, will be releasing a series of short articles discussing those topics.  Each article will describe an evaluation of a particular media project (documentaries, narrative films, etc), offer reflections on overall lessons in evaluation, and discuss if and how these lessons or processes are pertinent to a specific Horticulture tool classification.
WHO are we doing this for?

While we hope to educate and inform anyone interested in this topic, we’re particularly focused on funders, media makers, and advocates – those that have the most to gain from, and the most need for, a solid foundation in media impact evaluation.

HOW can you use this?

The answer depends on your role and your starting point. You may want to take the opportunity to simply learn about previous evaluations as an entry to thinking about what might make sense for you.  You may want to take lessons described and share them with your colleagues, grantees, funders, or friends, so they can expand their knowledge base.  You may want to use this knowledge to take the leap and actively integrate evaluation into your next project, or to grow your toolbox of evaluation practices. As long as you’re learning, you’re using this material as intended!

*Jessica Sperling contributes to the “Ask the Evaluators!” series as an independent evaluation consultant. Views expressed here are her own and don’t reflect the views of her employer.