Though she has always loved evaluation and its potential for righting the wrongs of the world, it’s just not in her nature to get excited about all that methodology falderal. And her recently bestowed title of senior statesman within the ranks of the AaEA doesn’t much impress her either.
Really, she’d rather be known as the cat lady.
Maureen’s office is a marvelous cacophony of posters, calendars, flyers, photos, and trinkets all paying homage to one of her great passions in life–cats. The irony of having a feline shrine at the epicenter of the CDC’s National Asthma Control Program (NACP)–in the office of the NACP’s lead evaluator no less–has not escaped her. But neither does it deter her.
You might say that one man’s trigger is another man’s treasure…
As a youth, Maureen felt called to be a lawyer. She has always had a heart for defending the defenseless and she has always been able to argue well. But instead of practicing law, she chose to practice policy instead and so obtained a graduate degree in policy from Georgia State University. Still, if law marches to the beat of policy, as some suggest, then Maureen has remained true to her calling and has simply chosen the higher path.
Maureen’s tenure as an evaluator began in 1988 as an analyst (read: evaluator) in the Atlanta regional Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As fate would have it, the mission of the OIG to combat fraud, waste and abuse in HHS programs dovetailed nicely with Maureen’s desire for greater social justice in the world.
She would fly up to Washington, D.C., on average about once a month to testify, collaborate, investigate, and otherwise join the fight against fraud, waste and abuse in the healthcare system. She played key roles in a major win against fraudulent home health care companies in Florida and in a significant policy change in foster care programs allowing noncustodial parents to reunite with their children.
From there, in 1994, Maureen joined Tom Chapel at the Atlanta office of Macro International (now ICF International), which provided research and evaluation, among other services, to agencies of the federal government, including the CDC. In this position, Maureen played the role of evaluation consultant which, though rewarding in its own right, was not quite the high-flying job (pun intended) she had at the OIG.
Eventually, in 1998, Maureen got a job at the CDC, but she’s quick to say she didn’t just waltz into it. She completed 62 applications before finally landing an evaluator position. So, when asked what advice she might have for evaluators who are new to the field, she says simply: “Be persistent and be patient.” When pressed further for advice to new evaluators, she adds, “And don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” meaning, one supposes, that you don’t need to be perfectly qualified for a position to apply for it.
Maureen’s first position in the CDC was an evaluator in the Division of Tuberculosis Elimination (DTBE). Then, six years ago, she transferred to the Air Pollution and Respiratory Health Branch of the CDC where she is today. Currently, she is the lead evaluator on a team of evaluation technical advisors (ETAs) that work with state asthma programs across the country, building each state grantee’s evaluation capacity and helping each state apply the CDC’s evaluation framework to their individual asthma programs.
So here she sits, still catlike, having attained the status of a senior statesman in evaluation, albeit a rather reluctant one.
When asked about the future of evaluation, a question often asked of senior statesmen, Maureen states that she has but one desire for the profession moving forward—that it be inclusive, that it grow in inclusiveness, that it be defined by inclusiveness. Inclusiveness has become for her almost a mantra.
Truth with a capital T has no place in evaluation, she says.
The days of the outside evaluator coming in from on high, pronouncing a program as worthy or unworthy, have thankfully long since passed. As evaluators, we must engage stakeholders with open-mindedness and we must engage reality with humility. Have faith not in your methodology, she would say, but in your passion for truth, and for justice, and for beauty, however they might present themselves.
And if you also have a passion for cats, well, that’s all the better.
Link to this page: http://atl-eval.org/?p=907
This year, we are starting a brand new feature. AaEA wants to show how much we appreciate and value our members by highlighting the work they do as evaluators. We would like to highlight Tom Chapel, Chief Evaluation Officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thanks to Lara Wagner for interviewing Tom for this highlight!
Tom Chapel, awarded AEA’s 2013 Alva and Gunnar Myrdal Government Evaluation Award
Can you tell me about your background and what lead you to the career path of Chief Evaluation Officer at CDC?
I was in the sociology PhD program and wanted to do something more applied and got a Masters, employment dried up so I got a MBA. I started in healthcare but missed dealing with social problems and big issues so I applied to be a project manager at Macro, which was closer to what I wanted to do, and worked on CDC projects. In 2000 they created an internal CDC position for evaluation; I’ve been there since.
What do you believe should be the role of evaluation in government and how does that differ from other entities like nonprofits?
There’s increasing emphasis on using evaluation for accountability and proving attribution. It’s hard because of complex environments but we should understand what people are doing long-term and focus on what they’re doing during programs. Evaluation needs to live in both worlds; that’s particularly true in government. There’s a lot of attention on using rigorous models, proving that you cause downstream impact, but evaluation has to be more than that. No one expects a nonprofit to move morbidity and mortality; the expectation in government is that programs will make big, public outcomes. The role of the evaluator becomes important in understanding steps. In government you want to understand the intermediate outcomes because they count as milestones in making contributions on projects you are accountable for.
What career advice do you have for someone starting out in evaluation?
Evaluation isn’t a discipline where you have to come out of a certain program. The best thing to do is get some experience in the field, do strategic planning and evaluation projects either as a volunteer or case study. A strong methods background can’t hurt; standard social science methods are usually plenty. Get a balance of quantitative and qualitative skills. At CDC the most effective evaluators live where planning, performance measurement or evaluation live together.
Where do you see evaluation going in the future?
Every so often the interest in experimental models reoccurs. That’s happening now with randomized control trials, proving cause, etc. Conversely, at CDC we have a lot of traction from emphasis on evaluation aligning with program improvement. We try to understand the parts of a program that cause your results to stall. As long as people are paying attention to how to evaluate and how to make programs better, we will have an important role.
What did you want to be when you were a kid? My dad was a carpenter and didn’t want us to do that. I just knew I wanted to wear a suit and make $10,000 a year. I always wanted to be in a helping profession, to be involved in influencing structures. Now I don’t want to wear a suit, that idea is appalling, but I can trace it all back to that desire to do a “thinking job” when I was a kid.
Highlight an AaEA member!
If you would like to nominate yourself or another AaEA member to be highlighted (or to be an interviewer), please contact email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org Note: You do not need to be an expert in your field in order to be highlighted—just a paid AaEA member! We would love to highlight evaluators in various stages of their careers (e.g., students, new evaluators, seasoned evaluators).
Link to this page: http://atl-eval.org/?p=896