Successful Engagement when Working with a Cohort

Siân Tattersall

Siân Tattersall, 12 June 2018

We are frequently asked by funders how engagement can be established and maintained across a cohort, particularly when evaluation is something requested of the organisations involved and not self-initiated. While the answer is partly dependent on context, here is a list of the key things we advise to promote and facilitate engagement throughout the evaluation process.

1. Cement an understanding of the evaluation
Understanding the rationale for evaluation is a crucial first step in ensuring engagement is established and maintained. This involves upfront examination of the what, where, why, when and how of the particular event or program to be evaluated.  

2. Create a supportive environment 
The importance of creating a supportive environment for the cohort cannot be underestimated. In some cases this may mean that the organisation/department overseeing the evaluation will need to directly assist the cohort with practical aspects of evaluating, as well as providing opportunities for feedback and addressing concerns when raised. Support doesn’t always need to be directed to specific members of the cohort. Instead, circulating a recent case study or distributing an interesting article highlighting the positive effects of evaluation could be useful. It is seemingly small acts such as these that can help to maintain engagement levels and keep the cohort data-focused throughout the evaluation period.

3. Maintain a steady stream of communication 
Once an air of positivity has been established surrounding the evaluation process, communication is the key to keeping up momentum across the cohort. A timeline, unique to the aims of the evaluation should be determined, providing awareness of key milestones and who to contact when. While this may be time-consuming, ensuring that correspondence is personalised and relevant to recipients can greatly assist in maintaining their participation in the evaluation process.

It can be difficult to judge how frequently a cohort should be contacted.  If a cohort contains motivated and independent evaluators and successful evaluation activity is taking place, there is no reason to contact them more than once a month. If a cohort, or specific projects within the cohort, are seen to be struggling with the process, levels of interaction may need to increase. The person at the forefront of engagement should gauge the situation with each member of the cohort on an individual basis to maximise confidence and ensure successful evaluations are conducted.  

4. Host educational events
We have found one of the most successful ways to support engagement is hosting educational events. Although requiring time and resources to deliver, there is a direct positive correlation between event attendance/participation and overall participation and cooperation in the evaluation process. Using a variety of tools, participants should leave the event having a deeper understanding of the evaluation method and feeling encouraged and supported in their participation. While many communication mechanisms can be digital, the value of face-to-face interaction shouldn’t be underestimated. 

5. Understand and reinforce each project’s uniqueness
The key to successful engagement across a cohort is personalisation and flexibility. When managing the evaluation process, it is important to recognise and allow for individuality, in order to ensure that the evaluation is meaningful and relevant to the organisations involved. Respect for each organisation/project’s uniqueness will greatly contribute towards their confidence in evaluation as a whole, and in your sensitive approach towards data collected. 

6. Provide a thorough debriefing
A debrief provides the opportunity for those involved in the evaluation process to reflect on what has been achieved. An open atmosphere with a clear structure is essential to facilitating an effective debrief. The structure of the session should allow time for revisiting the reasons for conducting evaluation, as well as analysis and future planning. A debrief should also present a safe space for those involved to voice their thoughts on the evaluation process and to feel a sense of ownership over the process. The facilitator should be prepared for questioning and be able to advise the cohort on what will happen with the data and if/when their efforts will culminate in practical changes.

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