Working productively with stakeholder groups concerning your school counseling program and its evaluation can be a complex undertaking. There is no recipe for identifying the relevant stakeholder groups; how best to work with these groups, maintaining a balance that signals fairness and inclusiveness; and ensuring that stakeholder information needs will be met in the evaluation. Effective communication, strong interpersonal skills, political sensitivity, and ability to work with a variety of groups are essential professional skills that will be needed to address the complex undertaking of working productively to involve stakeholder groups in the evaluation.
We think school counselors are well positioned to productively work with different individuals and stakeholder groups in the evaluation. The education and training received to work with people in a counseling context provide school counselors with the skills and abilities essential to doing evaluation work, particularly with a participatory approach that includes stakeholder involvement. To be clear, we are not saying that things will be easier for you. What we are saying is that you, as a school counselor, have the foundation for navigating the complexity of working with a variety of individuals and groups. In some respects, you are better prepared for this aspect of evaluation than many in the field of evaluation who do evaluation work full time. We urge you to keep in touch with your professional experience, intuition, and skills as a counselor, as you work with a wide variety of individuals in the context of the school counseling evaluation.
School counselors are well positioned to effectively work with stakeholders and do good evaluation work.
Informed by the JCSEE Program Evaluation Standards (Yarbrough et al., 2010), and ideas offered in the evaluation literature, we offer the following recommendations as you work with stakeholders in the context of the evaluation of your school counseling program. In addition, we provide recommendations to ensure a culturally responsive evaluation.
General Stakeholder Recommendations
Take stock of the school and community stakeholders in your school counseling program. Determine their interest in participating in the evaluation. Based on the number of stakeholders and the way school counseling programs are viewed in the district, choose a stakeholder organizational model that will work for you.
Based on available time, and knowledge of evaluation, determine which components of the evaluation you want to involve stakeholders. In addition, determine whether professional development will be needed for stakeholders, and work with your school principal to explore possible ways to provide this training.
Some stakeholders have expertise that could be tapped for the evaluation. For example, there may be people with expertise in developing questionnaires, or skilled at interviewing parents. You will need to take stock of these possibilities and think critically about how this expertise might be incorporated. Providing input for constructing evaluation questions is a solid way for stakeholders to be involved in the evaluation (Preskill & Jones, 2009). Chapter 5 provides detail about this feature of the school counseling evaluation framework. In sum, it will take reflection on your part to determine the expertise of stakeholders, whether or not some professional development could be helpful, and how best to incorporate their involvement in aspects of the evaluation. The payoff toward valuing the evaluation results and findings by stakeholders through their engagement with the evaluation is clearly worth the consideration.
Work to maintain productive relationships with all stakeholders. Solid interpersonal skills, treating people with respect, and communicating effectively are all attributes of productive work with stakeholders in evaluation. These are also attributes that you have as a school counselor. Draw on your skills and abilities in dealing with people as you progress with the evaluation of the school counseling program.
Get to know the various stakeholder groups and work to understand their interests in the school counseling program and evaluation. This could take some time to fully understand. Multiple conversations and listening well will help you understand and appreciate their interests.
Communicate regularly and often to stakeholder groups about the evaluation. Think of the evaluation as having a beginning, middle, and end. Tailor the communication accordingly.
Given resources, it is likely that the evaluation will not be able to meet all stakeholder information needs. To address this, be clear with all stakeholders what the various interests and information needs are among stakeholders. Should some interests be prioritized over others, be upfront with everyone about this issue and the rationale for prioritization.
Recommendations for Culturally Responsive Evaluation
In working with stakeholder groups that are from different cultures, get to know them and their needs and concerns regarding the school counseling program. Listen well. And in many instances, being sensitive to culture and developing cultural competence will be essential.
Be vigilant in remaining sensitive to human rights and dignity, particularly for those from whom you wish to collect data. Investigate whether or not the school district maintains a policy with respect to collecting data from people in, or associated with, a school, and follow this policy closely. Absent a policy, seek guidance from school building or district administrators. Document how human rights will be protected, dignity maintained, and risks minimized in the evaluation.
Working with a representative group of stakeholders regarding evaluation of the program is essential for the evaluation to be seen as credible and, therefore, used in some way to improve or positively impact the program and services (Donaldson, 2007; Yarbrough et al., 2010). The ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2012) recommends the use of advisory councils made up of program stakeholders, largely to react to presentations of the evaluation findings by the school counselor. This chapter has stressed the point that stakeholders could be involved in all aspects of the evaluation, and with large numbers of stakeholders, the use of ancillary committees to the advisory council composed of additional program stakeholders is a viable means to organize their work.
Working effectively with stakeholders in the evaluation is a defining feature of evaluation. The JCSEE Program Evaluation Standards (Yarbrough et al., 2010) make clear that those responsible for evaluation must respond to stakeholder needs and concerns for the evaluation. The chapter identified three levels of stakeholders, each with different information needs concerning the evaluation. In short, each stakeholder group could advocate for a different purpose for the evaluation, ranging from evaluation to improve services to evaluation to determine impact. To this end, organizing stakeholders strategically will be essential for efficient and effective stakeholder involvement in the evaluation. This could be accomplished through the advisory council, ancillary groups to the advisory council, or district-wide committees. Context will help determine the best approach.
Evaluation requires professional skills to effectively work with a variety of people. School counselors are uniquely positioned to work productively with stakeholders. The training school counselors receive and the professional repertoire they develop through their practice, provides school counselors with a real advantage in developing and carrying out an evaluation of their program and services that is responsive to stakeholder interests. In turn, the evaluation will be seen as credible and, therefore, an evaluation that is more likely to be used to benefit the program.
American School Counselor Association (2012). The ASCA National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Programs (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA.
Bardwell, B. (2013). Using your school counseling advisory councils to build school and community partnerships [PowerPoint slides].
Carney, F. (1996). Counseling and guidance advisory councils. ERIC Digest. Retrieved from ERIC database. (EDO-CG-96-25).
Donaldson, S. I. (2007). Program theory-driven evaluation science: Strategies and applications. New York, NY: Psychology Press Taylor & Francis Group.
Idaho Division of Professional-Technical Education (2010). School counseling program handbook for advisory councils.
Preskill, H. & Jones, N. (2009). A practical guide for engaging stakeholders in developing evaluation questions. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Evaluation Series.
Thomas, S. W. (2011). The impact of a comprehensive school counseling plan (Counselor Education Master’s Theses). The College at Brockport, State University of New York.
Walser, T. M. & Trevisan, M. S. (2019). Completing your evaluation dissertation, (Thesis, or final project). Los Angeles, CA: Sage. Manuscript under review.
Yarbrough, D. B., Shulha, L. M., Hopson, R. K., & Caruthers, F. A. (2010). The Program Evaluation Standards: A guide for evaluators and evaluation users (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.