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  • Writer's pictureLauren Beriont

Out-of-the-box evaluation

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

At EC, we love discovering the unexpected ways evaluative thinking and methods can support our partners and community. This year our team had the opportunity to partner again with the University of Michigan Edward Ginsberg Center, this time as its leaders embarked on choosing a new name.

Though the process was aimed at an updated name that reflected our work more holistically, it was also an important "formative assessment" opportunity to document how our key stakeholders are perceiving and valuing progress toward Ginsberg’s strategic vision. EC’s creative approach and seamless project management led us to a great result that we are excited to implement when the timing is appropriate. Dave Waterhouse, Associate Director, Ginsberg Center

Who is the Ginsberg Center?

We think of the Ginsberg Center as the community arm of the University of Michigan. Its current focus is on developing deep, long-term partnerships - grounded in equity - between the university and the community to advance the public good.

The Ginsberg Center's work has evolved substantially in the past ten years. The center has historically known for academic and co-curricular service-learning programs and supporting undergraduate volunteers in the community. Now it explicitly seeks to build more equitable and engaging approaches to service, teaching, and research partnership between all stakeholders at the University of Michigan and external community organizations, while continuing to support and prepare students with a social justice lens. For more information on the Ginsberg Center's guiding principles and vision for civic and community engagement, visit

What did we partner with the Ginsberg Center on?

Finding a new name! The name Edward Ginsberg Center for [Community Service and Learning] no longer encompassed its scope of work. The center’s hope was that through changing its name, the team could better signal and represent what they do and what they expect to accomplish in the next ten years. They wanted to become the Edward Ginsberg Center for...

A marketing and branding project for evaluators and learning professionals? What did that look like?

You can use the types of evaluative methods our team is trained in to answer all kinds of strategic questions. Our style of evaluation prioritizes the perspective of those closest to the problem through interactive facilitation. There's a lot of overlap there in the kind of rebranding the Ginsberg Center was looking for: a focus on the audience and on crafting messages that communicate their truths. So we went directly to the main “users” or participants of the Ginsberg Center: university students, university staff, Ginsberg Center staff, faculty, and arguably most important, community partners.

In qualitative data collection we triangulate the data to ensure validity and rigor of the data analysis and findings. In this project we triangulated the evaluation approaches by using multiple forms of data collection that included semi-structured interviews, focus groups, a survey, and a field scan of existing naming research.

Our analysis included deductive coding, meta-theming, and prioritization using a naming criteria matrix. We’d love to get into the nitty gritty of each of these steps for anyone interested. This process culminated in what some of us call data interpretion sessions; others on our team prefer "data parties"! Data interpretation involves bringing back key decision-makers (they don't have to all be executive staff) to make meaning of the data and findings. We do this because a) the program staff and participants are closer to the day-to-day and will often have takeaways and ‘aha’ moments that are less visible to outsiders like us, and b) long-term changes are more likely to succeed when the program team owns the next steps.

What did we learn?

We always have an eye to current and past projects to help us inform our future work. On this project, our team had three major takeaways:

  • Look for “deviant” cases in the data. Our findings were strengthened by looking for data that contradicted main themes and added to our final results. Deviant cases, or tensions, as we often call them, illustrated important differences in perceptions between the community and university partners.

  • Hold assumptions. We had our own ideas of the kind of the name the team would choose going into the final naming meeting. Had we left out our data interpretation session, we would have missed some names that truly resonated with the program team.

  • Be flexible. COVID-19 hit toward the end of this project, and of course finding a name became less important than ensuring safety of students and supporting community partners. In this time, we learned new virtual tools like Miro to help facilitate a sticky note activity we planned to do in person.

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