Brene Brown (all hail) has two phrases which we think provide a perfect framework to help you get the evaluation deliverable of your dreams: ‘Paint done for me’ and ‘Clear is Kind’ (more on these at Do Good Better).
Baking clarity into an evaluation from the beginning requires conversations between the evaluation commissioner, and evaluator/s about what ‘done’ looks like for the evaluation deliverables. Having these conversations – not just in broad strokes, but in specifics – draws out expectations, unearths assumptions and ensures you don’t end up with a scenario where you and your evaluator look at each other, confused – one wondering why expectations haven’t been met, the other wondering how they could have got it so wrong.
Ensuring evaluation deliverables ‘deliver’ involves applying the ‘clear is kind’ and ‘what does done look like’ thinking to giving feedback on draft deliverables. We’ve broken down some of the key considerations of giving gold star feedback to help you master the artform!
Be specific and make sure you are speaking the same language
Sometimes the disconnect between feedback given and outputs generated are because all humans interpret language differently. This is often an issue if ‘buzz’ words are used to provide feedback. Remember, the more specificity you can give, the clearer your expectations are, and the easier the feedback is to execute.
If the words you use when providing feedback don’t immediately make sense, consider clarifying what certain words or phrases mean to you. Giving concise feedback can take you a little longer initially but saves everyone the time and energy of further feedback rounds.
Feedback is a form of communication. Miscommunication is always a risk.
One reason why buzzwords creep into feedback conversations is in an attempt protect other people’s emotions. On softening the blow, Brene Brown is direct: ‘clear is kind’. Building on this, author Kim Scott encourages people to care personally and challenge directly.
Caring personally means understanding the feedback might be difficult and leading with the elements that do work well. (Being a task-focused human, I have to really concentrate to ensure I do this!). It helps the feedback recipient to understand what you want to see more of. Positive feedback also needs to be specific—”saying ‘great job’ without indicating what originated the comment doesn’t help at all.” 
If there’s a lot of critical feedback you need to deliver, consider meeting to discuss the key points, before sending through a document riddled with red pen. This can help the recipient understand the intent of the feedback. During the conversation, listen for and observe the recipient’s tone of voice and expressions to help you gauge how the feedback is landing, if it’s understood and being taken as constructive (and if not, change tack).
Zero feedback is not better than critical feedback
Don’t avoid giving feedback just because you think much of what you need to say might sound critical (Kim Scott calls this ‘ruinous empathy’). Most people would prefer to know you engaged with their work in detail, even if that means working through a stack of critical feedback, than think you skimmed it! Carefully crafted feedback is really important for learning and growth.
And if the work is fine and doesn’t need changes, that should be the feedback!
Give feedback when it adds value, never because you feel you ‘should’
Above all, don’t feel tempted to give feedback just because you feel you ‘should’. (This can often be the case when many people review a document—the late comers feel a pressure to contribute something, when enough has already been said.)
When giving feedback, ask yourself:
- is this something that has already been communicated or is it just adding ‘noise’?
- is this feedback going to contribute to a valuable change to the document or is it just personal preference?
There comes a point in any editing process where there are diminishing returns on small changes – where they just don’t add much to the value of the document, and can even delay its delivery – which may mean it ultimately becomes less useful!
For important evaluation deliverables—particularly for interagency projects—there will need to be multiple reviewers. Often, not all the reviewers agree, and their feedback is conflicting. It can be difficult for an evaluation consultant to understand which suggestion is best (or most aligned with current policy direction, for example) or most relevant (for example, provided by the ‘lead’ agency). In these cases, it can be useful for the commissioning agency to provide collated feedback, which makes it clear which feedback should be taken up. This may require some internal follow up, but it saves time and can prevent frustration with the feedback process and final deliverable.
We’d love to hear your tips on giving or receiving feedback to get your expectations met over on our LinkedIn page.