Carrying Out an External Evaluation (Part 2 of 3)

By Patricia Steele
HigherEd Insight


You know what your program wants to evaluate and why, but how do you find, contract, and work with an evaluator? The steps below can help your organization to identify an evaluator who suits your needs, write an evaluation Request for Proposal (RFP), and develop a contract with your evaluator.

Find potential evaluators. Finding an evaluator who fits your needs is a key component of a successful evaluation. Methods of soliciting an evaluator include:

  • Word of mouth: Ask colleagues, local college faculty, a university grants office, and other organizations in your network for evaluator recommendations. This tends to yield local evaluators, which can be cost effective.
  • Funder recommendations: Ask your funder to refer you to evaluators they respect.
  • The American Evaluation Association (AEA): AEA’s website includes a directory of evaluators organized by state and by key words. The directory lists many types of evaluators, including professional evaluation firms.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers a guide to evaluation that includes useful advice on finding—as well as working with—an external evaluator. 

Write a strong RFP. The RFP establishes the scope of work, plan, and budget and enables evaluators to submit a focused proposal to your organization. Be sure that you include the rubric with which you plan to score the proposals in the RFP. You can publicize your RFP widely or invite only specific applicants to apply. Tech Soup offers a great overview of the how-tos of the RFP process.

Interview prospective evaluators. Review the proposals you receive, scoring them based on your rubric. Identify and train reviewers and interviewers to help with this process. Then invite the top evaluators you have identified for interviews to ensure a good fit with your organization and evaluation goals. Include key stakeholders in this part to help that fit happen. Ask for references and relevant work samples to help you make your decision.

The Pell Institute offers a free comprehensive evaluation guide that includes a worksheet on assessing evaluator qualifications, among other handy resources. The Baltimore Association of Grantmakers’ guide to “When and How to Use External Evaluators” is another helpful source; it lists a number of key questions you may want to ask evaluator candidates, for example.

Create a contract with your chosen evaluator. Formalize your relationship with your evaluator through a contract (It may be advisable to consult an attorney for the contract development process.) Grants Northwest suggests that that the contract include:

  • A scope of work that outlines the purpose of the evaluation and they types of information you expect to gain.
  • Specific evaluation tasks that note which party if responsible for what jobs. For example, will the evaluator enter data from surveys or is your organization expected to perform that job?  Who is responsible for contacting respondents to set up site visits and interviews?  Western Michigan University has a handy checklist outlining typical responsibilities.
  • Clear information on who owns the data collected, how they will be stored, how they will meet privacy requirements, and who has access the data.
  • A budget that identifies the exact cost of the evaluation agreed to and how the evaluator will bill and be paid.  In general, expect to pay about five to ten percent of the amount of your funding for evaluation. 
  • Explicit timelines that outline when major evaluation steps will be conducted and completed and the dates deliverables can be expected. 
  • A detailed overview of what reporting will look like. What types of information will be included in reports? Will the report be a narrative or a PowerPoint?  How many drafts will are included in the price of the evaluation? ? Who will provide feedback on them and how? Who will edit and design final reports?

 The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration offers a useful guide for non-researchers to working and contracting with external evaluators. 

Tell Us More

Have you contracted with an external evaluator?  What questions were most helpful in selecting the right evaluator?  What contract elements would you consider most vital?

Note: HigherEd Insight serves as the independent evaluator for Lumina Foundation's adult college completion strategy.


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