Promoting Diversity Among Evaluators: The Robert Wood Johnson Evaluation Fellows Program
OMG President Gerri Spilka and Rodney Hopson, Hillman Distinguished Professor, Duquesne University, joined forces to launch the new Robert Wood Johnson Evaluation Fellowship program. They talk about their plans for the fellowship, describe their organizations' roles, and explain why diversity matters.
The Robert Wood Johnson Evaluation Fellows Program aims to increase diversity in your profession. Who is the ideal candidate for the program?
R.H.: The program is looking to support emerging professionals from groups historically underrepresented in the research and evaluation disciplines. Although many such people devote their careers to public service, few are aware that evaluation and research offer a challenging way in which they can serve the public good.
G.S.: Fellows will have limited professional experience and training in evaluation and be from a group that has been historically underrepresented in the evaluation field such as individuals from ethnic or racial minority groups, those from low-income communities, and first-generation college graduates.
Why does diversity matter in evaluation and research?
R.H.: Evaluators interpret key information about impact, accountability, and the outcomes of social change programs and policies. Our research guides decision making around concerns as varied as disaster preparedness and education reform. Members of a specific community have a deep understanding of their own community. And when they bring their own perspectives to research about their community, they enhance both the quality of an evaluation and the resulting decision making.
G.S.: OMG's experience teaches us that having people on our teams who reflect the community with which we are working gives us an immediate entree that facilitates an honest and forthright exchange. If, by contrast, the community group we are interviewing sees the members of an evaluation team as outsiders, they tend to tell us what they think we want to hear rather than explain how things truly are.
You didn't know one another when the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation first encouraged the OMG Center and Duquesne University to jointly develop the program. How did your partnership come about?
G.S.: It was an arranged marriage. OMG and Duquesne independently submitted ideas for a diversity fellowship program to Debra Joy Perez, Senior Program Officer at RWJF. She contacted us separately and asked if we would be interested in working as partners on a program.
R.H.: Gerri and I met in her offices in Philadelphia in June of 2007. She was with a team, I brought recent interns and advisors, and we spent three hours working and bouncing ideas around about program possibilities. It was a very encouraging meeting! I knew we could pull this off and we shared similar values about the effort.
How are the fellowships structured?
R.H.: The program has two twelve-month tracks: one for emerging professionals who have completed a relevant Masters and/or Ph.D. program; and another for working people in service-oriented careers who are interested in being trained or "retooled" as an evaluator.
G.S.: Fellows with established careers will “retool” with training during the fellowship year while remaining in their current position. Post graduates will be placed in a fulltime job with a nonprofit, foundation, or evaluation and research organization that has an established evaluation and research unit. We'll begin with the post-graduate fellowships. In the second year, we'll add the mid-career fellowship program.
What role does each of your organizations play?
G.S.: Rodney and I will each co-direct the project and work together on all aspects. But OMG will serve as the lead with the retooling professional fellows, and with finding placements for the post-graduate fellows.
R.H.: Duquesne will take the lead on the recruitment, selection, and training of the post-graduate fellows and assist in building the advisory and mentoring support mechanisms during their fellowship year.
You are evaluators. How will you measure the Robert Wood Johnson Evaluation Fellowship program's success?
G.S.: First and foremost, we'll look to see if the program results in an evaluation field with more people from diverse backgrounds.
R.H.: Then, we hope to see former fellows become leaders and mentors to the next generation of evaluators, and we hope to build sustainable linkages between partners, agencies, and fellows alike. This program also expects its fellows to improve evaluation quality.