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Learning to be a better actionable data advocate (or, professional development on ‘my shoestring’)

I’ve been thinking about professional development quite a bit lately. Since for me that includes a great deal of work around better supporting data use (or being an advocate for actionable data), I thought a blog post to summarize what I’ve been up to, am planning, and aspire to do might be of interest to others. And I’m especially interested in learning about how others work to learn and grow professionally (please share in comments if you are willing!).

I also have to give a little shout out to Melanie Booth’s Prattlenog post A Business Plan for Life’s Work which spurred some of my ‘noodling’ about this — someday perhaps I will integrate this in a focused way into a plan for my life’s work. I’m not sure I know what exactly I want that life’s work to be just yet, but it sounds lovely to be more planful about it!

Here’s what I have been up to and consider vital to my professional development:

  • Blogging, obviously…. Blogging, I find, helps me to frame some of my thinking — focus on a topic of interest or two at a time, and to explore topics with friends via collaborative work. A shout-out to Digital Writing month (which just wrapped up) is deserved here — my participation is responsible for the more substantive, and frequent, recent posts on this blog, as well as a new-found interest in more collaborative writing, and generally a great community of other folks who strive to write well digitally.
  • Staying involved in a local professional membership organization — the Oregon Program Evaluators Network (OPEN) serves as an extremely valuable network for me with other program evaluation (and related fields) professionals — OPEN holds regular events that are intended as learning opportunities for members including a conference (next one coming up in March 2013).
  • Learning from my colleagues. I am so very fortunate to work at an institution focused on learning. This means that I have the freedom, and am encouraged, to learn and grow, and that opportunities for learning from others at my institution (and from other institutions) abound. Some days I feel I learn something new at every single meeting I attend.
  • Tweeting! (@KimFLeonard) I know, it’s a little crazy, but I’m now (again, thanks to Digital Writing Month) totally addicted to twitter. I have saved no fewer than 50 tweets in the last month or so because they contain links to articles or blog posts or news blurbs that I want to read (and some I know will be wonderful). I wouldn’t have known about most of these without twitter. And now I just have to figure out what to do with all of them!

I am planning to …

  • Continue the above efforts, and attempt to organize, focus, and make a plan for tackling the growing pile of readings that I’ve collected.
  • Attend American Evaluation Association coffee break sessions that are relevant. There’s one coming up Thursday (12/6) titled “Meaningful & Accessible: Presenting Results in Ways that are Useful to Clients.” These are free, quick webinars that cover new tools or aspects of evaluation practice.
  • Attend the Oregon Program Evaluation Network conference in March 2013 and as many OPEN events throughout the year as possible (many of which are free)
  • Participate in the FREE upcoming Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization MOOC (massive open online course) on data visualization from the Knight School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. (something I learned about via twitter!)

I aspire to …

  • Read several books I’ve had on my growing ‘to read’ list and polish up some of my more technical skills.
  • Attend the American Evaluation Association conference in 2013. Not sure yet how I’m going to make that happen, but I so want to be there. It would be even more wonderful to present on an assessment project — something I’ll be thinking about in the months to come.
  • Write an article about an assessment or evaluation project to submit for journal publication.
  • Gain more experience and learn new things in doing consulting and independent contract work.

Writing all this out is prompting me to think about taking advice I usually give to others — break this up into meaningful, manageable pieces and make a plan to tackle them with a bent towards how I can get the return on my investment (in this case of time and energy I might otherwise spend doing other fun this). Hopefully as a result of all this, my ability to support and advocate for wise use of data will strengthen and grow.

How do you keep current? Intentionally learn and grow professionally? Have resources to share? Have made a ‘business plan for your life’s work’? Please comment!

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  1. Sheila B Robinson, Ed. D

    I could have written this myself! I mean that in the most complimentary way. We think alike! I think of everything I do as professional development. You’re very brave to have put your intentions out there in writing. Now, you MUST follow through. Like you, I love to learn, to read, to write, and to connect with others. One of my challenges now is how to organize and prioritize all the reading material – the bookmarked articles, the “favorited” tweets, the “liked” blog posts, and the ever-growing stack of books on my nightstand!

  2. Kim

    Thanks Sheila! Yes, I think there’s something very important about making intentions public. And I agree that my next biggest challenge is organizing and prioritizing all the things I want to read and learn about! I wonder how others manage this? For me I think I’m going to think like I do when I organize qualitative information — group things into topical themes and prioritize those, then break manageable-sized pieces off and make a (flexible) plan for tackling them (like, I will do one chunk per month, or something). We’ll see! If you have ideas about this, please share!

  3. Ann K. Emery

    Hi Kim, Great list!

    I’m blogging in January (to coincide with peoples’ thinking about New Years’ Resolutions) about operationalizing professional development like you have. Do you mind if I use you as an example in my blog post? I can send you a draft to review first.

  4. Kelly Smith

    Hi Kim! This is something I’m always thinking about but rarely following up on. I just signed up for the MOOC you mentioned–that will be fun. Maybe we can study together. Thanks for the kick in the pants!

  5. Kim

    Awesome Kelly — I know a few other classmates who are evaluators (including Anjie) so we’ll definitely have to all get connected. 😀

  6. josjoseph

    Hi Kim – impressive list and maybe a bit daunting too 🙂 Find it helps to prioritize my prof goals and focus on just 2 or 3 at any one time. It’s a natural filter the many interesting blogs, articles, talks etc. that come my way. So, if I’m trying to bone up on facilitation skills, related stuff gets priority over say an SEO piece. I still check out random cool stuff, just not as much. Also helps to do a quick review once a week of all the stuff I’ve saved for later. Rule of thumb is anything over 3 weeks old that I haven’t looked at yet gets deleted. It can be hard to do (I still make a few exceptions) but have found it’s a good way to avoid the stress that a big TO DO list can cause. — Cheers, Josh

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