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Our researchers are world-class evaluation experts

When it comes to providing evidence-based solutions to our clients, the researchers at Be the Change Group are experts. But you don’t have to take our word for it – we have the championship wins to prove it!

Two of our researchers, Blaga Ivanova and Jenna Bentley, were recently named world champions at the World Evaluation Case Competition. At this annual event, post-secondary students from around the globe face off in a timed competition to showcase their program evaluation skills. Working in teams, they analyze a case involving evaluation of a program offered by a non-profit or government organization.

Team photo taken at the 2022 Canadian Evaluation Society Conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
From left to right: Samer Rihani, Sadie Stephenson, Blaga Ivanova, Jenna Bentley, Reem Mustafa, Coach Beth Snow.

And how do evaluation skills make a difference to organizations in real life? Analyzing issues within existing programs and providing solutions can help organizations, governments, and businesses achieve their goals and improve outcomes. At Be the Change Group,  evaluation is one of our key technical services. Our Research + Community Engagement team consists of not only our newly recognized world champs, but also Research Team Lead Stephanie Liu and Research and Project Coordinator Kelly Banh, who placed first and top 3 respectively in the Canadian Student Evaluation Case Competition just a few years ago.

Curious to learn more about what it takes to win a competition like this, we did a quick Q & A with our award-winning researchers Blaga and Jenna.

Q: Why did you decide to compete?

Blaga: Program evaluation has been and continues to be a huge component of my professional career goals. My interest in it can be traced back to working in health promotion for the University of British Columbia, as well as for some client projects at Be the Change Group. I heard about the competition through a coworker who had competed during her Master’s in Public Health, and I thought “Wow! That sounds so niche… but also, right up my alley.” So when I ended up going to Simon Fraser University for my Master’s degree, it was definitely on my checklist of things I wanted to be involved in. 

Jenna: Evaluation was something I didn’t have previous professional experience with, but was an area where I wanted to build skills that I could use in my future public health career. I felt that a case competition was an opportunity to build and practice these skills in a scenario that mimicked the real world as much as possible. Getting the chance to work on something with Blaga and our other classmates, I knew would also make the experience fun and exciting.

Jenna and Blaga in Cape Town, South Africa, attending an international course on HIV and Youth as part of their Masters of Public Health program.

Q: How did you prepare for the competition?

Blaga: In most of these competitions, you don’t know what the case is until after the timer starts. Although we didn’t know what the programs entailed, we did a fair amount of preparation and discussion on how we wanted to express ourselves, as well as what political/social/economic considerations we should incorporate into our evaluation plans. For example, COVID-19 regulations would make in-person engagement difficult, so we would discuss these risks and how we would potentially mitigate them before the competition started. Also, we did a lot of dry runs to make sure we had practice putting a proposal together at such a high speed.

Jenna: We also prepared by researching different evaluation methods so that we could pick the best approach for the case when we received it. Since the competition encouraged us to think outside of the box and be creative, we spent a lot of time thinking about how different evaluation processes could work for different populations and contexts.

Q: Did your experience at Be the Change Group help you with the competition and do you think the competition will help support the work that you do at Be the Change Group?

Blaga: I started at Be the Change Group as a research assistant in 2019, and I had the amazing opportunity to jump into so many different projects at once. As most of our clients are population and public health organizations, I think my understanding of programs in this field was supported by the work I do at Be the Change. The cases in the competition are different from the projects we get at Be the Change Group, but they mirror each other in a lot of ways. I would say the competition process is like an expedited research methodology planning session!

Jenna: During the finals in Winnipeg, I was actually in the middle of my practicum experience with Be the Change! The skills I was learning during that time about the research methodology process and report writing definitely helped with parts of the competition. As a Researcher with Be the Change Group now, I feel like my deeper understanding of evaluation processes can help support the work I do.

Q: What was this competition about? What was the goal?

Blaga: The objective of the student case competition is to create an evaluation plan and present it to the judges in a proposal form. The goal is to have the most comprehensive, insightful, and well put-together proposal or presentation to evaluate the “case”, which is usually a program with some relation to public and population health.

Q: What did this competition mean for you?

Blaga: It feels great to say that we did it together. Our team was so great, and we worked together really smoothly, so I personally had a lot of fun throughout. I feel that a part of why we won was our ability to understand each other, our strengths and weaknesses, and how we work as a team—that allowed us to think outside the box and be really creative with our approaches. Personally, it solidified my passion for evaluation!

Jenna: It’s definitely something I’m very proud of. As Blaga said, being able to do it with our group made it even more special. I feel like I learned so much throughout the whole process that I will carry with me in my career moving forward, and evaluation is something that I hope to explore more in the future work I do.

Our multi-faceted, evidence-based approach helps us solve the biggest challenges

When people ask us what Be the Change Group does, it can take a while to answer because we’re truly multi-hyphenates. Yes, we’re a full-service creative agency, but we’re also a full-service strategy and communications firm, and a full-service applied research firm. 

Our team of technical researchers, clinicians, and population health consultants are experts in rigorous qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods research and analysis, which means we can offer solutions to some of our clients’ biggest challenges. Visit our Services pages to see the full scope of what we offer and read about some of our past research and community engagement projects.  

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