I’ve mentioned language use before.

I’ll talk about it today and probably again.

What the word–any word– means is the key to a successful evaluation.

Do you know what it means? Or do you think you know what it means? 

How do you find out if what you think it means is what your key funder (a stakeholder) thinks it means?  Or what the participants (target audience) thinks it means?  Or any other stakeholder (partners, for example) thinks it means…

You ask them.

You ask them BEFORE the evaluation begins.  You ask them BEFORE you have implemented the program.  You ask them when you plan the program.

During program planning, I bring to the table relevant stakeholders–folks similar to and different from those who will be the recipients of the program.  I ask them this evaluative question: “If you participated in this program, how will you know that the program is successful?  What has to happen/change to know that a difference has been made?”

Try it–the answers are often revealing, informative, and enlightening.  They are not often the answers you thought.  Listen to those stakeholders.  They have valuable insights.  They actually know something.

Once you have those answers, clarify any and all terminology so that everyone is on the same page.  What something means to you may means something completely different to someone else.

Impact is one of those words–it is both a noun and a verb.  Be careful how you use it and how it is used.  Go to a less loaded word–like results or effects.  Talk about measurable results that occur within a certain time frame–immediately after the program; several months after the program; several years after the program–depending on your program.  (If you are a forester, you may not see results for 40 years…)

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