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Evaluation Learning Circles

Posted by on November 21st, 2006 Posted in: News, Practical Evaluation


I attended a session at the 2006 American Evaluation Association conference about building “evaluation capacity” in organizations and one presenter talked about “learning circles” as a way to teach evaluation methods. Others from NN/LM attended the session and confirmed to Susan and I that learning circles would be a worthwhile activity for the OERC to offer. The presenter, Carolyn Cohen, described the following guidelines that she uses in her learning circles:

  • A facilitator (i.e., an OERC staff member) would help generate topic ideas, develop handouts and a short bibliography of materials, and would guide the discussion.
  • A session would be held bi-monthly to discuss an evaluation topic, such as logic models, focus groups, surveys, etc. Learning circles could also be used for less common topics like narrative methods, appreciative inquiry, and empowerment evaluation.
  • Evaluation materials are sent in advance to members and include web articles, posts from participants of EvalTalk (AEA’s online discussion group for evaluation practitioners) about applying the method, or book reviews.
  • A list of questions to structure the discussion is also sent to participants in advance. These questions focus on describing and thinking of ways to apply the method, such as “What is [this approach]?” “When would it be appropriate to use it?” “How would findings from a study using this approach be reported?”
  • Participants are expected to do some homework – reading through the materials, contemplating the discussion questions in advance, etc.

The OERC is hoping to implement learning circles for the Evaluation Liaisons and can open them to other interested RML staff and network members. Any suggestions for the learning circles and topic requests – which can be posted to the blog – will be much appreciated.

Source: Carolyn Cohen. “Evaluation Learning Circles: An Approach to Fostering Evaluation Capacity Building and Organizational Change” Presentation at the American Evaluation Association Conference, Portland, Oregon, 2006.

Image of the author ABOUT Cindy Olney
Cindy Olney is the Assistant Director of the NNLM Evaluation Office. She leads NNLM's evaluation efforts, designs evaluation methods, and guides analysis and reporting of evaluation findings.

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