Oh for the Love of Sticky Notes! The Changing Role of Evaluators Who Work with Foundations

Julia Coffman, founder of the Center for Evaluation Innovation, illustrates evaluators’ changing roles in the context of her own experiences as a long-time evaluator in philanthropy. The article examines the history of evaluation in philanthropy, and the implications of role changes for evaluator skills, expertise, and boundaries.

Foundations first started engaging with evaluation about 40 years ago, and in the time since, the role of evaluators has evolved considerably. Evaluators are now expected to have multiple skills and play varied roles. Those roles now include being applied social science researchers, theorists, strategists, strategic communicators, systems thinkers, facilitators, coaches, and trainers.

This article blends history and humor. Julia Coffman, founder of the Center for Evaluation Innovation, illustrates evaluators’ changing roles in the context of her own experiences as a long-time evaluator in philanthropy. She reflects on how changing expectations for evaluators interact with her own personality traits and preferences, including her dislike of sticky notes, facilitation, and small group exercises.

The evolution of what foundations expect from evaluators requires the development and refining of new skills to support learning for individuals, teams, and organizations. The implications for evaluators include a recurring need for training, the necessity of working in teams and collaborating, and pushing back to set boundaries when necessary.

The upside is that the demand for evaluators and their diverse skills is at an all-time high in philanthropy.

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