Leaders of The University of New Mexico Evaluation Lab deem the group’s inaugural Summer Institute an unequivocal success.

“This is about empowering community organizations to take part in evaluation on an ongoing basis,” said Melissa Binder, director of Evaluation Lab and UNM Economics professor. “It eliminates the need for them to hire an external evaluator and enables them to do that work in-house, with their own team.”

The UNM Evaluation Lab originated as a way to use the analytical skills of academia to service community organizations.Evaluation Lab is a required program for Master in Public Policy students.  Students from many other departments also participate, including economics, sociology, political science, statistics, public administration, educational leadership, community and regional planning, water resources and OILS. The lab provides practical experience to UNM graduate students, by partnering them with local nonprofits. The Evaluation Lab students collaboratively help nonprofits through the evaluation process, allowing them to provide more comprehensive data to stakeholders. 

Following a successful two years, Binder and Associate Director Sonia Bettez decided to expand the Evaluation Lab beyond UNM’s classroom– setting their sights on a community training program. The inaugural UNM Evaluation Lab Summer Institute was held July 30 – Aug. 3. 

17 organizations brought 65 registrants from as far north as Farmington and as far south as Las Cruces. Representatives from organizations in Silver City, Hobbs and Santa Fe were also in attendance. The institute offered a condensed version of the Evaluation Lab graduate course, reconstructed into more of a professional development workshop.

“I think it’s important to be able to look at our program, where we’ve been, where we want to go and how we want to get there,” said Su Hodgman with Northwest First Born Program, who travelled down from Farmington to attend the Summer Institute. “We’re figuring out what’s working, what’s not working, and we know that evaluation of a program is very strong. The institute has been very helpful in that regard.”

The 5-day Evaluation Lab Summer Institute focused on constructing ongoing and sustainable evaluation processes. Following the Summer Institute, those involved join Evaluation Lab staff and students for bi-weekly learning community exercises both in-person and via remote video conferencing. 

The Summer Institute was modeled after Project ECHO, developed at UNM Hospital. General medical practitioners present patient cases to their peers and to UNMH doctors through video conferencing using Zoom conference technology. These remote “rounds” encourage peer learning and learning by doing. In the Evaluation Lab, organization trainees present “evaluation cases”—evaluation plans, data collection tools, data analysis. 

Project ECHO was one of three major organizations in attendance, in addition to the City of Albuquerque and the New Mexico Behavioral Health Division.

“Before, I thought evaluation was defined as a small thing, but now we’re seeing how it’s central to everything and is really part of organization’s missions,” Binder concluded.

The UNM Evaluation Lab Summer Institute was financially supported by a variety of sponsors, including the Brindle Foundation, Con Alma Health Foundation, McCune Charitable Foundation, UNM Provost’s Office, Department of Economics, Department of Sociology, Institute for Social Research and UNM Public Policy.