Why Partner with an External Evaluator?
When a client seeks evaluation services, it is sometimes the case that they have no prior experience with evaluation; they have a demonstrated need for an outside expert and the services that a company like ours provides are new to them. However, sometimes a client may already have an internal evaluator or evaluation team, but may still choose to contract with an external evaluator. On the surface, this may not appear to make sense: why would a client who already has its own evaluation experts hire more? Here are some possible answers:
- An external evaluator is not directly involved in the client organization’s social environment, and as such is able to view the workings of the client organization or program differently than someone on the inside. Additionally, internal staff will view the external evaluator differently than their own coworkers inside the organization, and as a result agency staff may be more likely to share their experiences and perceptions with a stranger or outsider than with a fellow staff member.
- An external evaluator’s data collection efforts within an organization will differ from those of the organization’s internal evaluator, because an interviewee or focus group participant will not see the external evaluator as one of the program staff; they will feel freer to speak openly about their experiences and observations.
- An external evaluator will report its findings apolitically and will be able to make observations and suggestions that might be uncomfortable for an internal staff member (e.g., making these observations and recommendations may impact their job within the agency).
- An external evaluator may possess a content or technical expertise beyond the capacity of the organization’s internal staff, such as statistical modeling or experience with a specific population.
- An external evaluator can provide value to funders and other stakeholders who are often keen on objective, external perspectives on program goals. An organization using evaluation to satisfy funding requirements or to seek additional funds can gain an advantage over competitors by having an independent source of results from an evaluation firm known for producing quality, valid work.
Have you been a part of an internal-external evaluation partnership on either side? We’d love to hear your experiences and why the relationship was beneficial to your project.