Looking for an Individual to Join Our Team!

Last Team Meeting - Team Photo July 10 2018We have recently experienced transitions in our team: Jeremy who had been with us since 2015 left to work on his doctorate degree at Penn State and Maggie Jaeger who started with us as a research assistant is now working on her doctorate degree at the University of Minnesota. We are sad to have them leave us, but are excited about the opportunities that are ahead for them!

As a consequence, we are seeking to bring another individual on our team. If you want to work at a firm that discusses the nuisances of survey design, optimal non-parametric tests, best practices in data visualization, and yes, gets excited about Pi Day, then we invite you to review the job description and submit an application!

Job Description – Research and Evaluation Associate – Final – 09.14.18rev

Happy Pi Day!

I love celebrating Pi Day largely because it’s such a gloriously geeky thing to do! What makes it even “geekier” Pi - Day Picturewas the cool Pi pen holder (using about the first 300 digits of Pi) The Rucks Group team made through additive manufacturing (3D Printing) to celebrate a team member’s birthday. Why?

We have the pleasure of working with Iowa State University on a project funded by the National Science Foundation Division of Engineering Education and Centers to “promote a platform to bring together a network of under-represented minority (URM) women in engineering” towards increasing participation in advanced manufacturing and towards career advancement for URM women faculty in engineering.  As part of that work, I participated in a 2 ½ day workshop in October that covered a variety of topics including several presentations on additive manufacturing.

I shared with the team many of the advances in additive manufacturing and got the team excited about the topic as well. So of course, we needed to experience it firsthand, so we went over to our local 3D printing bar (yes, there is one just around the corner from our office and yes, they serve beer) and made our Pi pen holder.

In much of our evaluation work, we strive to gain a deep understanding of the subject to optimally implement the evaluation. For this project, it brought together all our geeky tendencies!

To learn more about the Advanced Manufacturing Workshop: Preparing the Next Generation of Researchers project, visit https://www.imse.iastate.edu/advanced-manufacturing-workshop/

 

Active Listening: A Way to Change the World

If I could do one thing to change the world, it would be to teach a critical mass of people how to engage in active listening. Active listening is when an individual is fully engaged to the verbal and nonverbal points that a communicator is sharing. It means not preparing what you are about to say or assuming you know what the person is about to say before it is said. Instead, it involves pausing to take in each message and summarizing that message before responding. If you’re actively listening then the conversation will look and feel different. The response time to what someone is saying will be slower. For me, I usually need to have a notebook to write down my thoughts to focus on the speaker rather than rehearsing my thoughts while apparently listening (or worse yet, jumping in the middle of their sentence … ugh!).

Not too long ago, I had an “aha” moment about the transformative nature of active listening. I was invited to facilitate a group of 20 individuals about standardizing evaluation expectations for their grantees. After allowing each individual to share about their expectations for the work session, I began to engage the group in conversation. I listen intensely to understand what was said. When there was a natural pause, I would summarize what was said by saying, “What I heard you say was … is that correct?” or “I understand that … is very challenging” or “It sounds like you’re very excited about …” The group naturally was able to come to agreement on several key components. Of course, there were a couple tense moments in which someone would share a thought that was probably shared a dozen times, and someone else would quickly respond, as they probably had a dozen times. In those moments, I summarized what the concern was from each person’s perspective. Often the concerns shared by each person was supported by the “opposing” person. In other words, it sounded and was treated like a disagreement but they really weren’t disagreeing.

During the entire session, I didn’t really say much. I even went to the client and explained that while it may not have looked like I was doing much, I was actually doing a lot (and she said she knew I was)! Once the work session was over, a number of individuals shared that the work session was one of the most productive meetings they had ever had!

Why was actively listening transformative? Because often in arguments and conflicts, the real problem is that the individuals are not understood. When we feel understood and supported for that perspective, we can let go of our position, and focus on solving-problems. Moreover, when we truly understand someone else’s concerns, better solutions are identified. One of the reasons that clients report having a positive experience with our team is because we actively listen to them and can offer better solutions to their struggles and approaches to telling their story. I suppose doing so is our way of actually taking steps to change the world, one client at a time.

Celebrating 10 Years!

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This year is exciting for many reasons:  250th anniversary of the publication of the Britannica, 50th Anniversary of Mister Rogers, the 23rd Winter Olympics (yay, Curling!), and the 10th anniversary of The Rucks Group! Considering that the firm was started in 2008 just months before the economy went off a cliff, that’s the milestone I am particularly excited!

While starting a business during a recession is faced with imaginable challenges, there are also some benefits. One of benefit is that it forced us to focus on certain principles. A few years ago, I articulated these principles and they are more and more reflected in our hiring, reviewing, and processes and have evolved into our core values:

* Contribute to a fun and productive environment
* Bring value to the client
* Provide academic excellence at business level speed
* Grow individually and collectively

I believe that the more we focus and reflect these values, the more successful we are.  How are we operationalizing these core values (spoken like an evaluator)? Or phrased differently, how do you see our core values in practice? Here are just a few examples:

1. Twice a year, we set a full day aside to reflect on the question: What are we doing well and where can we improve?
2. Throughout the year we participate in frequent lunch ‘n learns to develop our skills covering client management, data visualization, evaluative best practices, R, reporting, and time management topics.
3. We completed an extensive undertaking to outline our processes to ensure consistency of quality and timely completion of deliverables as we continue to grow.
4. We don’t let you forget about us. We reach out to you and have processes in place to serve as reminders for deliverable if we haven’t spoken to you at least once a month.
5. We continue to strive to reduce the stress and anxiety around gathering evidence of outcomes for our clients.

And we continue to identify ways that we can get better at what we do. Because at the end of the day, our job is to make our clients’ lives a little bit easier.

Thank you to our clients who have allowed us to partner with them on a vast array of projects! We look forward to another 10 years!

 

 

Seeking a Research and Evaluation Associate to Join Our Team!

Position

The Rucks Group is seeking a Research and Evaluation Associate to join our team who will reflect our mission, vision, and core values. Through a collaborative team approach, this individual will be a key contributor to the full range of research and evaluative activities on small and/or large-scale evaluation projects.

Requirements

A Master’s degree in psychology, statistics, or other related field plus two years of program evaluation, social science research, and/or data preparation and reporting experience are required.

About

The Rucks Group is a small research and evaluation firm located in southwest Ohio (Dayton). Formed in 2008, our mission is to provide services that maximize the return of resources invested in initiatives for grant recipients and funding sources with the vision to be globally recognized as an organization whose research and thoughtful analysis influences improved decision-making. Our projects revolve around STEM, workforce development, K16 Education, public health, and foundation funding. Our offices are located at The Entrepreneurs Center, a business incubator located in downtown Dayton.

Applying

To apply please forward to lrucks@therucksgroup.com the following items: cover letter, resume/vita, and a list of references. Applicant screening will begin December 15, 2016 and will continue until the position is filled. Work will be conducted at The Rucks Group’s office in Dayton (or Columbus within the next 6 – 12 months).

Click here to learn more.

Using Logic Models to Navigate Projects

Starting a new project is a lot like going on a road trip to a new place. We know what our destination is, it’s just the actually getting there that’s a bit fuzzy. That’s why we use GPS (or maps, if you prefer the old-fashioned route!) I like to think of logic models as the GPS of a project because this tool can serve to provide a way to achieve the outcomes of a project.

A logic model is a pictorial representation that conveys the relationship between inputs, activities, and anticipated outcomes. The logic model is a living document that changes throughout the life of the project as a deeper understanding of the connection between activities and outcomes emerges. As the figure below demonstrates, these components usually flow from left to right, with some sort of visual connectors, such as arrows, to direct readers through the model.

Logic Model Template 012816

A strength of the logic model lies not solely in the actual logic model but also in the internal alignment that occurs through the development of one. The process of developing a logic model focuses everyone to have a more systematic, theory-driven understanding of how actions are connected to desired outcomes. Creating the logic model provides an opportunity for team members to make assumptions explicit and gain consensus around project assumptions in a way that generally doesn’t naturally occur within the grant management process. It is not atypical during work sessions to develop a logic model to hear phrases such as “I was envisioning this differently” or “I assumed that we meant…”

It is important to note that a logic model is only as good as the information provided: If the individuals involved in the development of the tool don’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and comments, then some of these benefits will not be realized. So creating a safe space for stakeholders to share is an important part of developing a logic model.

After a logic model has been articulated, it is a great resource throughout the project’s life cycle. Project teams can rely on their logic model as a way to keep the project on track, by using it as a periodic checkpoint. By continually referring back to the logic model, team members will be able to identify leading and lagging indicators. Additionally, the logic model has utility as a decision-making tool. Logic models can help predict otherwise unintended consequences, allowing for teams to make informed decisions.

On practical note, there is only so much information that can and should be represented in the logic model. In other words, there needs to be a balance between simplicity and completeness in order to optimize the utility of a logic model.

Planning and executing a project is not an easy task. So if you’re struggling to find your way with a project, developing a logic model may help. Remember, you wouldn’t attempt a road trip without directions to your destination – so simplify your project by adding some project navigation.

Research and Evaluation: Presentation from AEA

If yIMG_0455ou’ve been working with grants for a while, you have probably noticed that the federal grant funding process is changing particularly as it relates to evaluation. In November of last year, I had the pleasure to work with Dr. Kelly Ball-Stahl and Jeff Grebinoski of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) on a presentation at the annual American Evaluation Association meeting regarding our shared experience of navigating these changing requirements.

Over the past few years, we’ve noticed remarkable changes in evaluation expectations. For instance, a few years ago, examining outputs was enough but now there is a much greater emphasis on outcomes. Similarly, there was a time when there was a large conceptual distinction between evaluation and research, those clear dividing lines are starting to blur through an increasing emphasis on evaluation rigor within the federally funding space, particularly from the Department of Ed, Department of Labor, and the National Science Foundation. It should be noted that this shift is not occurring simply to make evaluation and grant management more challenging. The underlying motivation is to ensure that the right interventions are being implemented to help the most number of individuals.

So, what are some consequences of these changes? Grant writers are increasingly involving evaluators in the evaluation planning of these types of grants because we have the expertise to be able to design experimental and rigorously designed quasi-experimental evaluations. For instance, at The Rucks Group we routinely work with grant writers to write evaluation plans for federal funding sources.

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Another important consequence is that institutions have to strengthen their data collection systems.  Data collection systems are all the entities within an organization that are involved in gathering facts, numbers, or statistics and effectively communicating this information to the right individuals. Having a fully functional data collection system is challenge by the “system” having a shared data language and an institutional research department that has the resources to appropriately respond to the data demands.

Although the changing requirements of federally funded grants do pose challenges for interested organizations, these changes also provide extraordinary opportunities.  By increasing the rigor of evaluating projects, we are also creating a deeper understanding of what works. Through these efforts, our work collectively will improve the lives of as many individuals as possible.

New Team, New Year

Although we say this every year, it is truly hard to believe that another year has passed. And while I’m still getting use to writing “2016,” I am particularly excited about this year. We will continue to work with lots of great clients and exciting projects some in new domains.

To continue to realize our core values concerning the quality of our services and products, we have expanded our team to bring in new talents and expertise to the firm. In October of last year, we welcomed two new employees: Jeremy Schwob and AnnaBeth Fish.  Jeremy Schwob joins our team as a Research and Evaluation Associate. Jeremy is finishing his master’s at the University of Dayton (UD) in Clinical Psychology, which he expects to earn in Spring 2016. Jeremy completed his undergraduate degree at UD, where he received a BA in Psychology. Jeremy is analytical and really enjoys working with data.

AnnaBeth Fish is our Administrative Assistant. AnnaBeth has an MA in Organizational Communication from Ball State University, and a BA in Communication Studies from Hollins University. She helps the firm in many ways, including calendar management, maintaining our website, general office administration, and completing the notorious “other tasks not specified.”

In addition to welcoming new individuals, we’ve also expanded the roles of existing team members. Joe Williams joined The Rucks Group as an intern in May 2015. After completing his internship he stayed on with us, working a few hours per week during the fall 2015. He is graduating a semester early with a BA in psychology, and will work nearly full-time in 2016 until matriculating to graduate school in the fall.

Carla Clasen, who serves as a sub-contractor, still works closely with the firm. In 2016, she her work will begin to focus more on our projects within the public health area. As many of you may recall, Carla worked as an evaluator within public health for nearly 20 years.

If you’d like more information about any of our team members or the firm itself, be sure to check out the About page on our website.

As we move into this year, we will continue to develop and attract the best talent to be able to optimally provide research and evaluation expertise to our clients and projects.

From All of Us Here at The Rucks Group

Wishing You the Best of the Holiday Season

NY Greetings JUST Wreath

 

I often tell my children that life won’t stop giving you opportunities to get upset. And I encourage them to reflect on their blessings and everything for which they are grateful. To me, that is at the heart of the holiday season, being grateful for what we have, something made even more pronounced given the backdrop of current national events.

One of the things I am deeply grateful for is to wake up each day and work with the people I do, and to know that the team is providing our clients amazing value through our services. Thank you for allowing us to use our gifts and talents in this way!

We wish you all the very best of the Holiday Season now, and throughout the New Year!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              — Lana

 

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