AEA Newsletter: July 2019

Message from the Executive Director

Reflecting on Recent Conferences, Town Halls, and Diversity and Inclusion

From Tessie Tzavaras Catsambas, AEA President
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 Dear AEA Friends,

What a great AEA Summer Institute we had in Atlanta this past June! Lots of packed courses, learning, and networking within our evaluation community — all while enjoying Atlanta’s delicious Southern food. A major highlight of my trip to Atlanta was a gathering hosted by the Atlanta-area Evaluation Association (AaEA). We enjoyed a “fireside chat” that took place nowhere near the fire, but outside at the Hudson Grille restaurant over hearty Atlanta fare. AaEA President Sarah Boyd (whose media experience shone through) conducted a professional interview over a fully-equipped PA system, seated on high stools. She asked thought-provoking questions and fielded input from the star-studded crowd; this included AEA award recipients, past AEA presidents, and AEA instructors as well as AEA TIG and Affiliate leaders. AEA’s Executive Director Anisha Lewis, offered a greeting and an invitation for feedback and member engagement in AEA life.

Issues raised by the AaEA and other affiliates were how do we bring affordable and regular evaluation training to their busy professional members, and provide spaces for networking opportunities and links to evaluation job opportunities.

On June 21, we held an AEA Town Hall session on the work of the Evaluation Policy Task Force (EPTF) with EPTF Chair Nick Hart (Data Coalition) and members Demetra Nightgale (Urban Institute) and Tom Chapel (CDC). What a pleasure it was to interview these brilliant professionals who bring AEA to the table, so to speak, and enable us to be heard in the halls of policy making. I urge everyone to listen to the recording of this very informative town hall to learn about the latest federal policies that influence evaluation. The implementation of the legislation on evidence-informed policies is moving quickly. Did you know the EPTF helped the AEA submit a letter to individuals who are planning the implementation of the new legislation? It is likely that federal agencies will expand evaluation staff in and increase significantly the sharing and use of data collected by the federal government.

On July 8, I spoke at Public Forum: Action Items for Implementing the Federal Data Strategy, a joint daylong public forum on the Federal Data Strategy’s draft 2019-2020 Action Plan; co-sponsored by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Data Coalition. Nick Hart did an excellent job facilitating it! Interestingly, a federal employee who is at the helm of the strategy, inquired how they might find qualified staff that have both large data and facilitation skills to engage stakeholders in implementing the federal data strategy. I was so pleased to point to our competencies that convey the diverse set of skills required (shout out to the competencies task force)! In this photo, Nick Hart (left) facilitates one of the panels.


On another front, as I mentioned in a past newsletter, the members of the Member Engagement, Diversity, and Leadership Development (MEDLD), and others, have continued work and conversations around diversity and inclusion. During the Town Hall that took place on July 19 from 2:00-3:00 PM EST, we shared what we have been doing and thinking, and invited comments, questions and suggestions for what we should be doing and thinking about in the future.

In other news, things are heating up for our Evaluation 2019 conference in November. Thanks to the amazing AEA staff (especially super-manager Natalie DeHart), and to Program co-chairs Melissa Chapman and Tom Archibald, we have an excellent and thoughtful plenary program and provocative presidential strand sessions for you. I have heard from some proposal reviewers about how impressed they are with the caliber of proposals we received this year and look forward to hearing about your bold ideas on the paths to the future of evaluation.

However, I’m slightly disappointed on the lack of videos from our young and emerging evaluators for our video project. We want to hear from you! You are the future of our practice and the community awaits to hear your voice!


Walking the Talk with Laura Sundstrom 

Helping Communities Tell Their Own Stories 

From Laura Sundstrom, MSW, evaluator at Vantage Evaluation 



Evaluation is my calling. I am at my happiest when I am helping nonprofits and other purpose-driven organizations think about evaluation differently and use data, and other evidence, to learn about, and improve, their programming. Seeing that “aha moment” in my clients’ faces is really what it is all about.

But, like many evaluators, I didn’t always know this would be my career. In school, I pursued degrees in Women’s Studies and Social Work because I deeply cared about my communities and wanted to expand my knowledge of social justice issues. I also knew that I didn’t want to do direct service work ─ it just wasn’t where my skill set and passion was. And then I found evaluation in my last semester of grad school ─ there was no looking back.

Through my studies, I learned how oppressed communities are often prevented in subtle and overt ways from being an active participant in their own lives and telling their own stories. Now, as an evaluator, I work to actively involve stakeholders and communities to share their voice and have an active role in telling their own story through evaluation capacity building, designing evaluations to authentically capture people’s experiences, and involving stakeholders throughout the entire evaluation process. 

Working at Vantage Evaluation has given me the opportunity to live out this vision every day, in big and small ways. We do more than plan and execute evaluations, we transform the way purpose-driven organizations think about and use evaluation ─ from data for data’s sake, to a learning process for strategic improvements. We see evaluation as key to strengthening the communities that we love. Within this context, I think about serving the community and activating individuals and organizations to tell their own story in the following ways:

Question what is valid.

Our ideas of high-quality and ethically defensible evaluation have traditionally stemmed from an academic, research perspective. I am pleased to see that AEA also includes culturally-responsive reasoning in their thinking of high-quality evaluation. As evaluators, we must push ourselves to re-think what we consider to be valid data if we hope to respond to the changing realities of the world, and elevate the voices of those traditionally excluded.

Infuse capacity building in everything.

At Vantage Evaluation, we have our specific evaluation capacity building projects, either working with one organization in-depth, facilitating cohort capacity building opportunities, or providing evaluation trainings. But we also try to infuse some capacity building on evaluative thinking and the “why” behind evaluation tasks into all of our more traditional external evaluation projects. By taking this teaching approach, we facilitate organizations to use evaluation practices that contribute to their decision-making, learning, and program improvement.

Share what you are learning.

For communities to have an active role in telling their own story, they have to at least know how their information is being used, if not be involved in the process. In any high-quality and culturally responsive evaluation, closing the feedback loop is critical. As an organization, sharing what you are learning with the community you serve not only strengthens your relationship with your participants, but it shows them that you are using the information that you collect from them, and promotes the understanding of evaluation practices.

Keep learning, yourself.

Social-change work is constantly evolving. And those of us that work to support these efforts through evaluation have to be constantly evolving our practice to remain useful. Continuous learning is an essential component of our work at Vantage Evaluation. We build in formal pause points throughout projects to reflect on how the project is going and lessons learned (either positive or negative) that we can infuse in our work throughout the organization. We also dedicate time for specific professional development every year, including closing down the offices for a week so the entire team can attend the AEA Annual Conference.


CREA Brings Professional Development Workshops Focused on Culturally Responsive Evaluation to Evaluation 2019 

From Zachary Grays, AEA Headquarters 

The American Evaluation Association (AEA) is pleased to announce the continued partnership with the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment (CREA) to offer a unique thread of professional development training options as part of the pre- and post-conference offerings during Evaluation 2019, November 11-16, 2019, in Minneapolis, MN. CREA was established in 2011 in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with Stafford Hood, Ph.D., Sheila M. Miller Professor, serving as its founding director.

Full Day Session:

Half Day Sessions:

CREA is a culturally diverse and interdisciplinary global community of researchers and practitioners in the areas of evaluation and assessment. CREA’s primary focus is to address the growing need for policy-relevant efforts that take seriously the influences of cultural norms, practices, and expectations in the design, implementation, and evaluation of social and educational interventions. To learn more about CREA, click here.


Potent Presentations Initiative

"Wake Up Sleepyhead!"  — NOT a Good Audience Engagement Strategy! 

From Sheila B. Robinson, Potent Presentations Initiative Coordinator 

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I was facilitating a full-day workshop as I often do, and noticed a woman seemingly nodding off, one of a presenter’s worst nightmares! Her eyes were fluttering closed, and her head tended to drop lower. I noticed that she wasn’t taking notes on her handout, as many of the other participants were doing during this more intense, content-heavy segment of the workshop. Of course, she may have been overly tired. Perhaps she didn’t sleep well the night before. Maybe she had a headache and those awful fluorescent conference room lights were bothering her eyes. It happens, right? Or perhaps my presentation was simply not engaging enough at that moment to sustain her attention.

Now, I can’t stop the workshop and ask her, “Hey, what’s up? Are you sleepin’ back there?” That wouldn’t be good presentation practice — and probably wouldn’t get me invited back again. What I can do, however, is pull from my bag of tricks; a set of audience engagement strategies that can bring an audience back to life.  

Best Case Scenario

I plan my presentations carefully to include audience engagement strategies at key points. I use some continuously, like eye contact and proximity, and others sporadically throughout. For example, ones that might require movement or materials. I examine my content and figure out when my audience will need a break from new learning to process and reflect on what I’ve just taught, when they will need an opportunity to practice a new skill, or when they just need an activity to energize them during a long stretch of intense concentration.

This isn’t a foolproof plan, however. People will still come to my sessions overtired or not feeling well, and there may be nothing I can do about that. But, I can have a few strategies “at the ready” to ensure that if I do lose the attention of a few audience members for reasons related to my presentation, I can get them back quickly.

On the Go Audience Engagement Strategies (aka Audience CPR)

While it’s always best to plan your audience engagement strategies around your content before you present. Here are a few strategies you can execute in “emergency” situations, like the one described above, or when you see people otherwise not engaged during your presentation.

  • For processing and reflection: Infuse a quick “Turn and Talk.” Ask participants to partner with the person next to them and take a moment to describe the main “takeaways” thus far in the presentation. Then, have the other partner describe theirs. Or, pose a question to your audience, like, “When might you be able to use what you just learned in your own practice?”
  • For a quick energizer: Ask people to stop, close their eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Or, have them stand up shake out their limbs, put their hands in the air, and sit down again. These simple exercises supposedly get the blood and oxygen flowing and serve as a sort of “reset” button for attention.
  • For action planning: Ask participants to start or continue an action plan with a list of specific skills, techniques, mindsets, or changes in practice they are committing to take after the session. Have them stop and add to this list a few times during the session, and at least once at the end.

Resources for Audience Engagement

Want even more strategies for audience engagement? You can view a Coffee Break Webinar, and download the Audience Engagement Strategy Book (both free!) on our P2i Tools and Guidelines page.


We need your help!

  • Have you successfully used p2i tools or p2i principles in your presentations?
  • Do you have “before” and “after” slide examples you would be willing to share?
  • Do you have ideas for, or are you interested in writing a blog article on Potent Presentations?
  • Do you have an interest in sharing your tips for Potent Presentations through a brief video or webinar?


Please contact me at and let’s talk! I’m happy to help, offer guidance, or collaborate on any of these.


Nonprofit and Foundations TIG Forms a Leadership Council

From Susan Wolfe and Ann Price, Nonprofit and Foundations TIG Co-chairs

Who We Are

The Nonprofit and Foundations TIG (NPF TIG) is a group evaluators who work in or with non-profits and foundations and are committed to improving evaluation practice and use. The NPF TIG provides a space for networking and shared learning around evaluation best practices within the nonprofit and foundation communities.

What is New with the NPF TIG

Recently, the Nonprofit and Foundations TIG formed a leadership council in order to offer more ways for TIG members to get involved. Prior to forming the council, the TIG had two business co-chairs, two program co-chairs, and two co-webmasters. The leadership council adds up to six additional leadership team members. TIG council members serve in an advisory capacity to TIG leaders and assist with TIG projects, such as coordinating the AEA365 Blog week, assisting with AEA Conference activities, preparing the TIG newsletter, and other projects. All TIG Leadership team members participate in quarterly TIG Zoom Meetings to plan and coordinate activities.

As prior co-chairs of the Community Psychology TIG, the current NPF TIG Co-chairs Susan Wolfe and Ann Price discovered many benefits to having a TIG Leadership Council. The council provides members the opportunity to engage with the TIG and AEA, contributes to the leadership development of members, and provides more hands to help with the work. TIG Leadership Councils get to know how the TIG works, learn more about AEA, and prepare themselves for future elected TIG leadership positions. Additionally, having more members on the leadership council provides the TIG with more diverse perspectives and a larger body of input for decision making.

Ways to get involved with the NPF TIG

As of July 15, there are five leadership council members, so the TIG has room for one more member to participate! If you are a member of the NPF TIG and would like to be considered for an opening, please email Susan Wolfe ( or Ann Price ( If other TIG leaders would like more information to form their own TIG Leadership Council, please email us!


AEA Silent Auction to Benefit Traveling Presenters 

The Silent Auction is an annual event sponsored by the International Cross-Cultural Evaluation (ICCE) TIG held on Friday night of the AEA Evaluation 2019 conference. This year, the Silent Auction will be held on Friday, November 15, 2019, at 6:45 p.m. (please refer to the AEA conference program for the exact room/venue).

The money raised at the Silent Auction is used 100% to provide travel grants to first-time attendees from developing countries presenting at the AEA conference. AEA Board matches the funds raised, doubling the pot for travel grants.

The items at the Silent Auction are donated by AEA conference attendees from around the world, evaluation associations/societies (AEA, AES, and CES), training institutes (e.g., The Evaluators' Institute, Claremont Evaluation Center), publishing companies, and authors of evaluation books. Additionally, your evaluation gurus donate an hour of their time ─ which you can also bid on to have impactful discussions with them.

The Silent Auction is an excellent networking event. You are encouraged to bring something to donate and also bid. It is a unique one-stop event. If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to email


Register Today for Evaluation 2019

AEA Members Receive a Special Discount Through August 2!

Registration for Evaluation 2019 is now open! Register today and join more than 3,000 evaluation professionals from across the globe on November 11 - 16 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Don't miss this opportunity to collaborate, network, and discuss the role of evaluators in building the future of the evaluation practice for the lowest cost. AEA Members recieve a special discount through August 2! Register now!


AEA Elections: Last Chance to Vote! 

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AEA Members, it is time to make your voice heard! The annual AEA election closes Wednesday, July 31. A link to access the voting tool for the slate of director and officer candidates went out via email from, and you can learn more about the process and candidates here. This is a great opportunity to leverage your networks and increase AEA's diversity.

For more information, check out our elections FAQs and reach out to Zachary Grays at Viewing requires member login.


AEA Town Halls


The AEA Board of Directors would like the opportunity to engage more with AEA members and discuss a variety of strategic and visionary topics with the membership. The virtual Town Hall approach allows a regular opportunity to pose strategic questions and topics to the membership for input. Keep an eye out for upcoming Town Halls and make sure to take a look at some past webinars


AEA Professional Development Corner 

On-Demand Resources Available

From the AEA Education Team 

The Digital Knowledge Hub is an online platform featuring professional development opportunities for evaluators, by evaluators. Check out prerecorded eStudies now available for purchase.

You can also access past Coffee Breaks though the Coffee Break Archive.


Events of Interest

Events for AEA Members, Suggested by AEA Members

In this section, we spotlight events that may be of interest to the AEA community, as suggested by fellow members. Please note these events are not sponsored by AEA. If you would like to suggest an upcoming event, email Cady Stokes, AEA newsletter editor, at


Thank You to Our Longstanding Members

 AEA would like to recognize and thank some of its most longstanding members. Click here to view individuals who are celebrating 5+, 10+, 20+ and 30+ years with the association this month!


Welcome to Our New Members

 AEA would like to welcome those who have recently joined the association. Click here to view a list of AEA's newest members.

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