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The ins and outs of program evaluation

From the day I started my internship, I instantly felt like I was contributing to Emerge Massachusetts. Let me tell you why.

Ryanne Olsen, executive director of Emerge MA, and a Northeastern graduate, wasted no time on my first day, immediately assigning me to a program evaluation project. Before I delve into the project, a little background information is important. As a reminder, Emerge MA is part of a larger national movement dedicated to getting more Democratic women into elected office, and the organization accomplishes this through training programs focused on connecting women to the knowledge and resources required for successful campaigns. Emerge MA offers three main training programs which differ based on where women are at and their particular desires.

The first program is a sort of introductory course called “Women Organizing to Win,” which is a free two to four-hour long workshop that features a training, a panel, and discussion open to women interested in: 1) learning from other women who have run; 2) building their skills in telling their stories; 3) growing a network to get more civically involved. The second program is a boot camp designed for current candidates. It is an intensive three-day training on what women need in order to run and win, such as developing a campaign plan, fundraising, and messaging.

The third program is the organization’s flagship cohort-based six-month training held for either one or two weekends a month. This program is meant for women looking to run for office within one to five years, and it is suitable for women who already have a vision and know what position they want to run for, as well as those still trying to figure out where their presence can be the most impactful. During this program, women gain the skills needed to form and communicate a message to run and win Democratic campaign in Massachusetts. Participants undergo comprehensive trainings in public speaking, networking, campaign strategy and management, field operations, cultural competence, ethical leadership, and more. In June, 46 women graduated from the most recent six-month training, which began in January. Toward the end of the training, Emerge MA surveyed women about their experience. My program evaluation assignment is to review the survey data and compile a cohesive document outlining key points and information, or any recommendations that stand out.

It took me some time to read and dissect all the participant surveys. But now that I am done reading them, I have gained a stronger understanding of the organization’s mission and impact. When asked about who or what motivated women to apply to the program, numerous women claimed the election was their deciding point: many felt waiting to run was no longer acceptable and that the realm of politics needed more women, especially in an administration driven by a president known for his misogynistic remarks, actions, and general mistreatment of women. Though dismayed and saddened by the election results, many women also expressed wanting to overcome the election by affecting change in their communities directly through their service and capabilities.

The top answer for what one’s favorite part of the program was turned out to be meeting and connecting with intelligent, supporting, and inspiring women, thus forming relationships with women who share similar interests and passions. With respect to what/who made the biggest impact, participants overwhelmingly cited the sisterhood and safe space they fostered for one another to grow and learn as potential candidates. Every single participant said they felt better prepared to run for office because of the Emerge program and would recommend it to other women. One respondent stated that the program helped her pull together everything she knew about politics. Another wrote that Emerge helped demystify the campaign and political process while addressing her biggest obstacles: fear and lack of confidence.

What’s interesting about the most recent six-month training is the doubling of applications and the surge of interest in the organization after the 2016 election. Due to high demand, the organization—for the first time in its history—raised the resources to run two six-month training programs to provide twice as many diverse and talented women with the skills and community they need to seek public office. The next step of this program evaluation assignment is to consolidate the document of responses I created into a format that is more viewer-friendly and comprises only the most pertinent and relevant information. The final document will be presented and shared to the organization’s new curriculum committee assembled to review evaluations of Emerge MA’s programs and propose improvements to strengthen the effectiveness of these programs. I will work closely with the chairman of this committee to plan and organize meeting times/dates with program trainers—more about this on my next post!

As for now, I will leave you all with a testimonial on the survey from one participant:


“Emerge was an incredible and empowering experience, following a tough election season in which I saw just how far we have still to go when it comes to women’s voices being truly welcomed in the spaces and places of power. The women in my Emerge cohort—and the incredible trainers we met and worked with—took my post-election broken heart and helped it heal. They made me stronger. We made each other stronger. Emerge made me feel ready to run – and win!”


Published On: July 6, 2017 |
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