Building Evaluation Capacity With Zoo Educators
I wanted to write a quick blog post about a project we're working on with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and their Conservation Education Committee (CEC). Within the CEC, I champion the Educational Research and Evaluation Initiative (EREI - last acronym, I promise). One of the main goals of EREI is to increase evaluation capacity among zoo and aquarium educators.
With this task at hand, we discussed many options. A toolkit seemed redundant; a training course seemed challenging for the short term. We wanted something that would be free and accessible for all educators, regardless of institution size. At last, we settled on the idea of a mentoring program.
Building the mentoring program took a lot of front-end work. We gathered a group of thought partners - people who would later act as both mentors and mentees - and constructed a set of guidelines. These guidelines would protect both sides from having to do excessive amounts of work, while also setting everyone up for a successful partnership. For some of the mentors, we knew that we were asking them to do for free what they would usually do for money, so we wanted to make sure the emphasis was on building capacity and not doing heavy evaluation work.
Once we were all happy with the guidelines, we rolled out the first phase of the program. We built a Google Form that mentees could use to "apply" for a mentoring partner. This form asked them to describe their program, identify a timeline (usually no longer than six months), and describe the specific parts of the evaluation that they needed help with. In the first round, we received four applications. We matched these four mentees with four experienced evaluation mentors based on areas of expertise, prior relationships, and geographic proximity - and that become our pilot test!
Many of these formal mentoring relationships are coming to a close now, and we are looking forward to doing a debrief with both mentors and mentees to find out what worked, what didn't, and anything we should change before the next cohort applies. Initially, the program seems to be working well, but we are looking forward to learning more in the coming months - look for another blog post with results!
P.S. I couldn't find a good photo to accompany this blog post so please accept this comic from Fresh Spectrum.