A Closer Look: WEC Projects Span Many Fields and Purposes

July 5, 2022   |   By Karen Rivedal, WCER Communications

WCER’s Wisconsin Evaluation Collaborative (WEC) provides evaluation and program support within the preK–higher education system, working with school districts, professional associations, higher education institutions, state agencies, education-based community organizations, and Cooperative Educational Service Agencies (CESAs).

WEC provides its clients with a wide range of evaluation and program development assistance. Its experts form a community of evaluators with diverse content and methodological expertise from across WCER and the School of Education. WEC also offers an outreach clinic to serve small projects through applied training of graduate students in evaluation and research methods.

Evaluation services offered by WEC include logic modeling and evaluation planning, data sourcing and collection, and surveys and focus groups. WEC also uses statistical analysis, data visualization, and culturally responsive evaluation, while involving client organizations in the entire process to build their internal capacity for future evaluation.

WEC employs 26 researchers, scientists, and evaluators, a learning specialist, and a program manager. Its three co-directors are Brad Carl, Annalee Good, and Steve Kimball.

The scale of WEC’s ongoing projects is immense, ranging from a two-state, federally funded, multi-project center to improve K–12 academic achievement—known as the Wisconsin-Minnesota Comprehensive Center-Region 10—to a state-level evaluation of academic and career planning for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) now in its 7th year, to school district-level evaluations in Milwaukee and Sparta. WEC’s portfolio also includes:

  • Five projects involving a new focus on higher education work, including evaluation of a constellation of services and programs intended to broaden pathways to STEM for diverse student populations at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee. Another higher ed project provides research and evaluation services around development of a pilot certificate program to train grad students at Kansas State University to help solve rural challenges around food, energy, and water, while a third involves evaluating bystander intervention workshops across academia (over 75 done in the last 4 years) intended to address bullying, discrimination and hostile working and learning environments.
  • Several projects involving health and education. Examples of that focus include evaluation of the state Department of Health Services’ SNAP-Ed project focused on nutrition education programming and healthy food systems. WEC also is working with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, DPI and external funders to evaluate statewide health-education initiatives, and with the Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation on its multi-partner Every Child Thrives initiative, which includes measures of kindergarten readiness, K–12 success and post-secondary opportunities.
  • Evaluation and support services for community groups, such as United Way of Dane County’s AmeriCorps tutoring programs offered during the school day and after it.
  • Projects focused on informal learning, including out-of-classroom learning at UW– Madison’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC). WEC provides ongoing advising, technical support, and resources for evaluation of MRSEC’s outreach programs including youth science field trips, short experiential science activities on and off campus, and science kit distribution through local food pantries.

Throughout, WEC works to provide its evaluation-related services in culturally resonant ways. For UW–Madison’s Population Health Institute, for example, WEC is using a monthly meeting dubbed an “Academic Lodge” with an “online academic talking circle” methodology to help build that organization’s capacity for self-evaluation. WEC Associate Scientist Nicole Brown describes the model as “not a sit-and-get design, but rather professionals showing up as both humans functioning in the real world and as academics or practitioners working to apply evaluation in ways that are effective, equitable and culturally responsive.”

(If other WCER centers/projects are interested in collaborating on a similar “Closer Look” story, please let me know at krivedal@wisc.edu.)