ENVIRON  590L-001: Is it Worth It? Evaluating Environmental Programs

Spring 2021

Instructor: Charlotte Clark

“Profession-bent students should be helped to understand that in the twenty-first century, the world will not be run by those who possess more information alone.… We are drowning in information, while starving in wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.”  - E.O. Wilson, Consilience

Program evaluation is an essential skill among environmental managers, educators, and decision-makers. Programs designed to manage environmental resources, to produce an engaged citizenry committed to this management, and/or to actually ensure that environmental improvements result, need to be systematically evaluated to ensure that outcomes are achievable, and that continuous learning leads to improvements in selection and achievement of these outcomes. This continuous learning towards improvement, or program evaluation, must be done in a way that takes the social context into consideration, and incorporates culturally responsive and equitable principles.

However, environmental programs are often under-resourced, and staff do not have the skills and/or time to evaluate their effectiveness. Evaluation can seem daunting and overwhelming. As a result, programs continue with business as usual, doing what they have traditionally done, or relying on anecdotal evidence to inform change. Through this class, students will gain skills to understand how to evaluate organizations of multiple sizes and resource levels. We will cover ways to design and conduct evaluations, ways to interpret evaluations, and ways to critique evaluations. We will focus on evaluation that is inclusive of a lens of culturally responsive and equitable concepts.

We will consider these topics at three levels: gaining competence in these activities as individuals, infusing an ethic of program evaluation organizationally, and considering how to roll-up evaluations collectively, or across multiple programs or organizations to tell a story more broadly.

This is a collaborative project course, meaning that student learning is driven by collaborative research, analysis, and communication on an applied project that extends across the entire semester. This includes student teamwork, and generation of an authentic product – in this case an evaluation plan for real-world clients – Environmental Educators of North Carolina, and the NC Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs. We will address “real-life” evaluation challenges, and will explore current debates and developments in the field.

See other Service-Learning and Community-Engaged Courses for Spring 2021 on the Duke Service-Learning site.

  • Service-Learning/Community-Engaged Course