From "core competency" to "blue sky thinking" to downright weird turns of phrase like "opening the kimono," small business jargon can get pretty murky not to mention more than a little pretentious. Refreshingly, the definition of the term "evaluator" is pretty much exactly what you think it is: Someone who evaluates something.
If that sounds kind of broad, that's because it is. In the business world, the title of evaluator is typically given to someone who is brought in externally to assess or evaluate a company's business plan. Evaluators assess everything from the structure of a lab study to the quality of food to the construction of an education plan, so there's a good chance they'll fit into your business plan, too.
Evaluate Your Evaluators
In business English, the Cambridge Dictionary defines an evaluator as "someone whose job is to judge the quality, importance, amount or value of something."
You might be thinking, "but I judge the quality, importance, amount or value of stuff for my business all the time, so I guess that makes me an evaluator." Not necessarily. You'll often hear the term "independent evaluator," and that's because one of the key values of bringing in an evaluator is the opportunity – or necessity – to receive the assessment of a judicious eye from an external source that is, in theory, objective and unbiased.
More than being an independent assessor, an evaluator is regarded as a subject-matter expert or SME on whatever subject they're called upon to assess. This means that they're not only qualified and skilled enough to perform the tasks or engage with the services, systems or products they evaluate, but also to react to any abnormal conditions on the fly.
Bring in an Evaluator
Now that you know what an evaluator is, one big question remains: "When should I call on one for my small business?"
Often, independent evaluators work with a project team at the beginning of a new undertaking, such as the start of a small business or a venture into a new area. In cases like this, the evaluator will consider the entire scope of the project's development and offer a full dissemination of their results, often working closely with the team itself. Their input may play a role in managing team relationships, setting expectations, designing programs, implementing new workflow processes and enhancing communication. An evaluator's input is usually based on their systematic collection of data and the analysis of evidence collected during the project.
Before you bring an evaluator on board, you'll need to provide at least a month of heads up (as a general rule of thumb) and have a complete, detailed copy of your project plan and a solid picture of your goals, budget, timeline and staff outlook on hand. These essentials serve as the evaluator's starting toolbox.
Expand Your Assessment
Though rates for evaluators vary just as widely as the fields they work in, the National Science Foundation's EvaluATE center recommends allotting about 10 percent of your project budget for evaluation costs. Likewise, because of the great variance in fields and focuses, there is no standard qualification or certification for evaluators. As such, it's best to seek recommendations and references before hiring.
Be aware that your evaluator may throw a little basic evaluation terminology at you. Know that formative evaluation is generally a less formal, flexible type of evaluation that provides a gauge of your project in its current state whereas a summative evaluation provides an overall assessment at the end of an evaluation period, often comparing the results to a particular standard or benchmark.