University-Based Centers TIG

Welcome to the University-Based Centers TIG website!


The University-Based Evaluation Centers Topical Interest Group (TIG) provides a forum for practicing evaluators based out of universities and colleges to network, problem solve and disseminate knowledge. We aim to ensure that university-based evaluators have a place to share experiences and build understanding about how to thrive within the unique context of a university setting.


  • Establish a vibrant community of university-based evaluators
  • Create a hub where university-based evaluators can debate and discuss issues of shared concern, ask questions and share resources
  • Provide opportunities to network with others working in university-based evaluation settings
  • Share resources about how to operate within the complex bureaucratic settings associated with colleges and universities
  • Coordinate and disseminate research on strategies and tactics for effectively operating university-based evaluation centers

Reasons for joining
For evaluators who are based out of a college or university, there are a number of distinct constraints and benefits that impact their work. The vast bureaucracy associated with a large, complex system can make the job of developing new work, hiring staff, getting contracts approved, or even purchasing supplies or being reimbursed for travel time intensive and burdensome. Evaluation units are frequently embedded in larger colleges and administrative entities where complex chains of command can be difficult to navigate. Negotiated, administrative and overhead costs can at times be prohibitive to community partners with limited resources. And many staff in these units are non-tenured, so that personnel-related issues are more difficult to resolve than is the case for traditional, tenure-track faculty members.

On the other side of the coin, being at a university brings name recognition and built-in reputation that is not available to many other professionals. Generous fringe benefits may be available to full time employees, and university resources such as the library and institutional review board (IRB), and access to high quality graduate assistants and expert faculty set these organizations apart. In some situations, university partners are required for grant projects and contracts. Further, the bureaucracy that creates barriers also brings legal protections, and the university will often go to bat if there are conflicts that independent practitioners may have to handle themselves.

At the 2015, 2017, and 2018 meetings of the American Evaluation Association, small roundtable and birds-of-a-feather discussions were held where the distinctive issues associated with working in a university-based evaluation unit were discussed. These conversations were fruitful, but didn’t last long enough or cover enough ground to satisfy participants. At the 2018 meeting, many participants in these discussions expressed an interest in a forum for similarly situated professionals to learn from, and strategize with one another for the purpose of improving our ability to do effective and functional evaluation work.

This TIG builds off of the discussions mentioned above, as the conveners feel that a TIG focusing on university-based centers would address an important, unmet need for evaluators working in these environments. While there are TIGs focusing on other, distinct groups of practitioners and researchers (such as non-profit organizations and independent consultants) there is no analog for university-based evaluators. Some university-based centers have informally shared information with one another, and some attempts have been made to set up online forums to discuss shared issues. However, these efforts have not gained much traction. Establishing a formal TIG should facilitate networking and information sharing efforts, and help these evaluators to better address barriers confronting them, while best taking advantage of their unique opportunities. The primary function of this TIG is to discuss practical issues and concerns that affect university-based evaluators, keeping a focus on how the setting in which we practice evaluation can affect how we practice evaluation. There may also be novel research undertaken, that is relevant to this specific group of practitioners.


AEA 2019 Business Meeting
This TIG was recently formed in 2019, and will be hosting its first business meeting at the 2019 annual meeting of the AEA.  Please join us, and take advantage of an opportunity to build connections across other Centers.

AEA 2019 Social Event
A social event is being planned for AEA 2019.  This will take place on Friday, November 15 at 12:30 at the Hen House Eatery (114 S. 8th Street). See menu and prices here: https://www.henhouseeatery.com/menu/lunch/

Please email Eden (kysee@montclair.edu) to RSVP so we can adjust reservation accordingly.

2019 AEA Conference Sessions
While we don't have official TIG sessions yet, the following are in the spirit of this TIG, and we encourage members or potential members to attend

Tools to Improve and Reflect on Evaluation Practice

Reflecting on evaluation practice is integral to professional practice and competency development, however, little guidance is provided on how evaluators can effectively engage in the reflection process. This presentation addresses this gap by offering two tools to assist evaluators in reflecting on their evaluation practice and identifying areas of growth in alignment with the AEA competencies. A faculty member/project director and graduate students from a university-based program evaluation center will discuss how the Growth Assessment Form and the Community Partner Evaluation Form were developed based on AEA Evaluator Competencies and used to identify current skills and capacities, as well as areas for professional growth. Session attendees will learn about these valuable tools and how they have been used in self-assessment, supervision, and mentoring in a university-based program evaluation center. Attendees will also learn how they can adapt the Growth Assessment Form and Community Partner Evaluation Form for their organizations.

Thu, Nov 14, 2019 (10:30 AM - 11:15 AM): CC L100 F

University-Based Sellers of Evaluation in the United States

The winter 2018 issue of New Directions for Evaluation examined the market for evaluation services in a variety of venues, including chapters about small and large sellers of evaluation in the U.S. A class of evaluation sellers was notably absent from the issue: university-based sellers of evaluation. These sellers of evaluation are unique from those discussed in the issue of NDE. First, their revenue streams may fall in the gap left between small and large sellers, as operationalized in the issue. Second, university affiliation comes with unique strengths (access to an IRB) and obstacles (broader institutional policies). Thirdly, university-based evaluators often operate in an academic context that can be suspicious of both the commodification and professionalization of knowledge and knowledge production. The facilitators for this session will apply the emerging framework for the evaluation marketplace described by Nielson, Lemire and Christie (2018) to their experience working for university-based sellers of evaluation and lead a discussion so attendees can provide feedback and additional context. Attendees will learn more about the market for evaluation services and how university-based sellers of evaluation fit into that market.

Thu, Nov 14, 2019 (01:45 PM - 02:30 PM) : CC L100 F *

Building the Future Of Evaluation Now; Communities of Practice: Building the Capacity of New Evaluators

Much of the current evaluation training and learning literature focuses on formalized education such as coursework, required practicums, and internships. At the same time, research has suggested there is a gap between the outcomes of these formal education experiences and development of evaluation competencies. This leads us to ask, “What other paths exist for emerging evaluators to gain confidence and competency in evaluation practice?” We propose a community of practice as a way to foster knowledge sharing and competency growth while also supporting the development of an evaluator identity. We plan to introduce, critique, and apply the C4P framework, which conceptualizes communities of practice as products of their Content, Conversation, Connections, Information Context, and Purpose. We will discuss a community of practice for transdisciplinary graduate research assistants as a model for innovative evaluation training. We will offer insights for adapting this model for differing organizational structures and evaluation philosophies.

Fri, Nov 15, 2019 (11:30 AM - 12:15 PM): CC L100 E

UEval: Bridging the Community-University Evaluation Gap through Co-created and Experiential Learning

Community-based organizations across North America face an overwhelming pressure to generate evidence demonstrating accountability and impact. However, often they lack capacity and resources to produce this kind of evidence. Moreover, some Canadian universities are failing to equip students with contextual evaluation knowledge and skills; thus, creating a generation of emerging professionals who are unable to respond to the not-for-profit sector’s evaluative needs. This presentation will outline the development, pilot, and evaluation of UEval—an innovative evaluation capacity building institute that uses co-creation between university faculty, students and community stakeholders as a model to enhance learning. Guided by principles of participatory and experiential learning, UEval brings undergraduates, graduates and community professionals together as co-learners in the exploration and application of evaluation theory through case-based learning. Learners develop evaluative responses to community-informed cases, and mutually shape and benefit one another’s learning experiences. This initiative aims to bridge an important community-university evaluation gap.

Sat, Nov 16, 2019 (11:15 AM - 12:00 PM): CC 101 G