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Thursday, 25 September 2014 08:50

Student research: Impressive and making a difference

Written by    Volume: 20  Issue: 7
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For the first time, the Consortium of Universities for Evaluation Education (CUEE) sponsored a student track of research presentations at the Canadian Evaluation Society’s national conference in June. Under the guidance of the conference co-chairs, Dr. Isabelle Bourgeois and Jane Whynot, students were able to submit proposals, which were then turned over to the CUEE to adjudicate. The CUEE selected 12 projects to present over two days in four panels.

Students from across the 12 member universities were encouraged to submit proposals under one of three themes: innovations in research on evaluation; findings from evaluation projects; or key learning points from their evaluation projects. Papers in both English and French were selected for each of these themes, and each panel session was supported by academic discussants from member universities.

With respect to the first theme, innovations in research on evaluation, Frances Gagnon, University of Ottawa, discussed the importance of “construct validity,” noting that it is critical especially when the credibility and utility of evaluation findings are in question. She provided a useful approach to ensuring construct validation throughout various project stages.

Marie-Pier Marchand, Université du Québec, who is working on the roles that judgments play in program evaluations, argued that program stakeholders play a vital role in the process of producing credible judgment, but that this role is poorly captured or documented. She argued from a democratic perspective that stakeholders have important messages to contribute to the evaluation process that increase the usability of reports.

Raimi Osseni, Ècole nationale d’administration publique, presented a development evaluation model for understanding assessment at the country level based on the work of Mario Segone (2009). He maintained that beneficiary countries, not donors, should direct important aspects of their evaluations.

With respect to the second theme, findings from evaluation projects, several papers were presented. First, Barbara Szijarto and Kate Svensson, University of Ottawa, presented results from a knowledge mobilization project, arguing that although participation in program design and implementation encourages knowledge exchange, care is needed to maintain clear roles for the evaluators and other stakeholders involved.

Tanya Halsall, University of Ottawa, spoke about challenges and strategies for success of a leadership program for Aboriginal youth, underlining the efficacy of “sport for development” programs.

Isabelle-Ann Leclair Mallette, Université de Sherbrooke, drew on Huey Chen’s work in action research to describe evaluation findings from a child protection program in Montreal. With over 10 years of data using 37 groups, she reported that program effectiveness is linked to the importance of factors such as client dosage (extent of exposure) to the program activities, stakeholder participation, and design fidelity when the program is implemented.

Sophie-Claire Valiquette-Tessier, Nathalie Freynet, and Marie-Pier Vandette, University of Ottawa, reported results from the evaluation of the needs and services of a Quebec program for single mothers. They reported that the needs and input of single mothers has been under-valued in evaluations.

Carol Miller and Ann Lipman, Carleton University, reported their findings from a formative evaluation of the Kitigan-Zibi First Nation funding agreement with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. They concluded that the agreement did not facilitate local autonomy and severely restricted achieving local objectives.

With respect to the third theme, key learning points from evaluation projects, Jennifer Rae, University of Ottawa, spoke about the Youth Futures Program aimed at improving enrolment and participation in post-secondary education by those students from disadvantaged family backgrounds. She discussed the importance of building capacity in community-based programs, how to generate interest in evaluation with diverse stakeholder groups, and how to make their reports useful.

Hind Al Hudib and Nathalie Gilbert, University of Ottawa, presented their experience as graduate research assistants on a multi-university research team. They reflected on their experiences performing collaborative research by examining work management, tools to facilitate the collaboration process, and lessons learned as graduate students.

As academics who have committed to increasing opportunities for graduate students to learn about evaluation, CUEE members were uniformly supportive of continuing this student-focused strand at future Canadian Evaluation Society conferences.

The CUEE wishes to thank the CES and PPX for their financial support for the students. The PPX was instrumental in covering the costs of student presenters, and the CES generously covered conference fees for several attending students. Most important, we wish to thank the students for generously sharing their work, and generating thoughtful and stimulating conversations.

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Robert P. Shepherd

Dr. Robert P. Shepherd is associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton University and co-Chair of the Consortium of Universities for Evaluation Education.

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