Mentoring is a process where people are able to share their professional and personal experiences in order to support their development and growth in all spheres of life. Generally mentoring is a one to one relationship where a person with more experience in an area or organisation is paired with someone who wishes to develop their skills and abilities in order to perform at a higher level.
However, mentoring is not simply coaching for it encompasses a wide range of areas beyond that of teaching skills. For example, mentors undertake a range of actions to support the mentoree, such as being a resource person or counsellor, being someone to go to in order to sound out important decisions and being a guide who allows one to reflect on where they are and where they want to be by focusing on strengths, weaknesses and aspirations. A mentor, therefore, must be implicitly trusted and valued by the mentoree and also must always have their best interests at heart.
Walker et al (2002) describe how ‘[m]entors may be thought of as teachers. They may develop their protégé’s intellectual and career skills. They model, inform, confirm or disconfirm, prescribe, or question. Mentors may also act as sponsors, assisting protégés in developing and sharing their own network of personal contacts. They protect, promote and support. Mentors may act as counselors, providing advice, guidance, moral support and nurturing. They listen, probe, clarify and advise. The mentor may act simply as a host or guide, sharing an informal social network with the protégé. Mentors may serve as exemplars to their protégé. The mentor may provide a standard of excellence that the protégé will aspire to surpass.’
For evaluators, mentoring can and should form an integral part of their ongoing learning and development growth. The American Evaluation association’s guidelines describe how evaluators should ensure that ‘continuing professional development… [should include] working with other evaluators to learn from their skills and expertise” (American Evaluation Association, 2004, para. 12.4). Likewise, Cowles believes that evaluators need to ‘build coalitions’ with other evaluators in order to ensure that they are stepping out of their comfort zones and creating “authentic, trusting, and honest relationships” (p. 15) (Bertrand 2006, p. 31).
In 1994, Darling outlined 14 specific parameters of a mentor’s role:
Source: Walker et al (2002)
While mentoring can take on many guises such as formal or informal and intra-agency or inter-agency, it is the formal mentoring program which seems to have ongoing benefits for all participants. Formal mentoring programs offer a range of career development opportunities that can be explicitly linked to the goals and objectives of an organisation, the mentee and the mentor. It will have clear benefits to all parties involved as it ‘increas[es] the skills, flexibility and knowledge of all participating employees, [by] enhancing morale and regenerating enthusiasm’ (Spencer & Tribe 2004, p. 7)
DECI-2 is an applied research project supported by IDRC’s Networked Economies Program that provides combined support in Utilization-Focused Evaluation (UFE) and Research Communication through mentoring. Through this program, they are able to help their partners became ‘adaptive managers’ as they adjust their project strategies to maximize impact.
Sonal Zaveri's guest blog on BetterEvaluation discusses DECI-2's work in mentoring evaluators of Operation ASHA’s pilot of a mobile-based app for tuberculosis detection, which involved providing support and advice about using UFE to reflect on what OpASHA wanted to evaluate, who would use the evaluation, and for what purpose.
Other case examples from DECI-2 are available on their website, which add some additional insight into DECI-2's mentoring process. One example, (Mentoring the CITIZENLAB & Cyber Stewards Project in evaluation and research communication), notes that:
The evaluator of the CSN project acknowledged that the mentorship she received was one of the most important enabling factors for successfully conducting UFE. According to her, “it was incredibly valuable because it made the process come to life and more do-able.” This contribution was perhaps DECI-2’s most significant achievement and may be related to the fact that the mentor provided practical insights that made the process more manageable. Overall, the mentorship was effective at helping the evaluator gain practical knowledge on how to conduct UFE. For example, the evaluator said that the mentorship helped her gain deeper insights about the UFE steps rather than just going through the theory. The mentorship also helped her gain confidence on how to do UFE, to the point that she gave a presentation to an academic audience on her experience. (p.11)
It also discusses three factors that contributed to a successful mentoring process: the practical knowledge of the mentor; 16 the background and interest of the person receiving the mentorship; and the organization’s buy-in to try UFE (p.16).
Advice for CHOOSING this option
Spencer and Tribe (2004, pp. 8-10) outline the clear benefits to all participants:
"Benefits to the Mentee
- increased skills and knowledge
- increased potential for career mobility and promotion
- improved understanding of their roles in the organisation
- insights into the culture and unwritten rules of the organisation
- a supportive environment in which successes and failures can be evaluated in a non-confrontational manner
- a smoother transition through management levels
- a powerful learning tool to acquire competencies and professional experience
- potential for increased visibility
- networking opportunities
- development of professional skills and self-confidence
- recognition and satisfaction
- encourages different perspectives and attitudes to one’s work,
- develops greater appreciation of the complexities of decisionmaking within the organisational framework.
Benefits to the Mentor
- opportunities to test new ideas
- enhanced knowledge of other areas of the agency
- renewed enthusiasm for their role as an experienced employee
- higher level recognition of their worth and skills through encouragement to take on a mentoring role
- challenging discussions with people who have fresh perspectives and who are not already part of the organisational thinking
- raising awareness and responsiveness to EEO group issues in a non-threatening/non-compulsory process
- satisfaction from contributing to the mentee’s development
- opportunities to reflect upon and articulate their role
- cultural awareness — improved understanding of employment equity management principles
- develop deeper awareness of their own behaviour
- improved inter-personal skills in counselling, listening, modelling and leading,
- improved ability to share experience and knowledge.
Benefits to the Agency
- improved delivery of services through more informed and skilled staff
- application of knowledge gained from mentoring
- reduced recruitment and selection costs as a result of higher employee retention
- progress towards diversity and equal opportunity in the workplace
- improved communication between separate areas of the agency
- support networks for employees in times of organisational change
- managers with enhanced people management skills
- successful mentees often become mentors and better people managers
- promotes the concept of a learning environment where employees are encouraged to be developed
- more committed and productive staff
- an contribute to succession planning, employment equity planning
- transmitting of cultural values and norms that can contribute to a change in workplace culture."
Advice for USING this option
There can also be pitfalls in the mentoring process. Matching people who are able to conduct a cohesive and productive relationship can be difficult as either one, or both members of a mentorship may struggle to work effectively with the other person. This can be particularly prominent when there is a lack of understanding about the role and purpose of a mentor. The lack of support of the organisation itself can also be detrimental to a mentoring relationship if it is not considered a valuable component of the professional learning and growth opportunities of the agency.
To migitigate some of the issues that can arise, it can be a good idea to introduce:
- Training for both mentors and mentees
- Suggested guidelines
- A Code of Ethics
Carefully thinking through the process of matching of mentors and mentees should be giving attention, along with what processes for engagement and meeting options will work best.
- Mentoring matters: This webpage from Primary Health Care Research & Information Service provides an overview of the importance and benefits of a good mentoring program.
- Mentoring for the New Millennium: This article outlines the rationale behind mentoring and argues that developing a formal mentoring program will lead to the development of a learning organisation.
- Mentoring Made Easy: This guide from the NSW Premier's Office outlines the process and advantages of setting up a formal mentoring program in the workplace. The guide provides case studies in order to demonstrate how mentoring programs have been established in different contexts.
- DECI-2 Case Study Library: DECI-2 is an applied research project that provides combined support in Utilization-Focused Evaluation (UFE) and Research Communication through mentoring.
- EvalYouth International Mentoring Program for Young and Emerging Evaluators: Information about the launch of the 2017 program can be found here.
- Canadian Evaluation Society (CES) Mentoring Initiative: This site offers a mentoring opportunity for Members of the Canadian Evaluation Society (CES) - free for CES members.
- ReMOTE (Realist Methodology Online Tutoring and Education) programme: This is an on-line group mentoring service for realist methodology training. Details can be found under the ReMOTE tab at www.realistmethodology-cares.org
- Local evaluation associations and societies: Get in touch with your local evaluation group to find out what mentoring opportunities are available in your area.
Know of a mentoring program that we haven't listed? Please let us know! Leave a comment below or contact us here.
Bertrand, T. C. (2006), Cultural Competency in Evaluation: A Black Perspective. Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations. The Florida State University. Retrieved from: http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1904&context=etd
Chambers , R. (2005). Find yourself a mentor. BMJ Careers, Retrieved from http://careers.bmj.com/careers/advice/view-article.html?id=795
Navas, J., Ramirez, R., Brodhead, D. (2016) Mentoring the CITIZENLAB & Cyber Stewards Project in evaluation and research communication: DECI-2 Case Study. Retrieved from: http://evaluationandcommunicationinpractice.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/...
Spencer, C., & Tribe, K. NSW Premier's Department, Employment Equity and Diversity. (2004). Mentoring made easy. Retrieved from website: http://www.dpc.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/19330/Mentoring_Ma...
Walker, W. O., Kelly, P., & Hume, R. F. (2002). Mentoring for the new millennium. Med Educ Online, 7(15), Retrieved from http://www.med-ed-online.org/f0000038.htm