By Jade Maloney, Emily Verstege and Ruby Leahy-Gatfield
Evaluation is about assessing the ‘merit, worth or value’ of something (in our context, this is usually a policy, an intervention or program) to inform decision-making. The significant amount of expenditure on evaluation, particularly by government, has been justified by the potential for use of evaluations to improve outcomes and ensure effective targeting of limited resources. But evaluation reports often go un-used, gathering dust on shelves.
A range of factors contribute to this (see Michael Quinn Patton’s Utilisation-Focused Evaluation and Jade’s research on evaluation use in the Australian context). Poor communication is one of these factors.
This is the age of information overload and evaluation is unlikely at the top of your audience’s to do list.
Evaluation reports can fail on communications in many ways.
When a report does not tell a story that engages, when key questions are left unanswered, and when the jargon overtakes the words, reading an evaluation report becomes a chore rather than a gift.
Jade studied journalism and began her career in publishing before joining ARTD in 2008 and completed her Master of Arts in Creative Writing in 2013. Emily has worked as science writer and editor and—as her school report cards note—has always been a competent verbal communicator. Ruby worked in the communications team at International IDEA in Stockholm and has been known to stick grammar jokes up on the office walls.
Jade and Emily have been thinking about communication in evaluation for years. They first presented on How Effective Communication Can Help Evaluations Have More Influence at the Australian Evaluation Society International Evaluation Conference in Sydney in 2011. They’re both relieved and disappointed that much of their advice remains relevant.
Our favourite books about communication include Gabrielle Dolan’s Stories for Work, Chip and Dan Heath’s Ideas That Stick, Neil James’s Writing at Work, and Mark Tredinnick’s The Little Red Writing Book.
Our collective frustration is the wilful misuse of the possessive apostrophe (anyone for scrambled egg’s?) and evaluations that don’t reach their potential because they get stuck behind communication barriers.
In this seven-part Communication for Evaluation series, we’ll step you through our top tips for evaluation communications that cut through. We’ll cover ways to: