In 2007, the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation started contacting states to learn about each state’s best practices in program evaluation and quality assurance. These calls generally lasted about an hour and a half during which Utah shared their own activities in regards to their consumer satisfaction survey, comprehensive statewide needs assessment, case file review activities and client focus groups and to give the other state the opportunity to share what they do with these program evaluation activities as well. These conversations turned out to be an excellent form of continuing education.
One of the standard questions that frequently came up during these conversations was, “What resources or training do you turn to when you are developing a new or revised tool in quality assurance?” A common response was that evaluators did what their predecessors did without any changes. Another common response was that they would develop the tool themselves internally with assistance from state agency administrators who likely had a limited knowledge of program evaluation practices and methodology. The most common response was a long pause.
After speaking with 11 different states, it was clear that very few state agencies had any interstate contact or collaboration. Based on this information, Utah decided to host a Summit on the topic in September of 2008. Utah contacted each of the original 11 states (that were part of a new email listserv) and all 11 states attended the 1st Summit, which was held in Salt Lake City, Utah on September 25th and 26th, 2008.
Since 2008, the Summit on Vocational Rehabilitation Program Evaluation & Quality Assurance has successfully held four more annual summits. This year’s summit will make its first appearance on the Eastern seaboard and is supported by a collaboration of greater New England VR agencies and disability organizations.
As with any community of practice, many pivotal members have helped the summit to succeed. Michael Shoemaker’s outreach to the original 11 states and support from Kyle Walker and Don Uchida, the Executive Director of the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, created the original impetus for the summit. Dr. Scott Sabella from the Region VIII TACE Center shared contacts and networked with recognized experts in program evaluation to encouraging experts to present at Summits and also to present at webinars between Summit events. Scott helped to spread the word of the Summit Group and its existence by co-presenting at conferences and writing articles. Dr. Michael Millington from the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Material gave the Summit Group its first digital home and was pivotal in the conceptualization of how the community could be encouraged to grow in an unforced way. Dr. David Vandergoot from the Center of Management Essential and Hunter College lead the effort to create initial training modules in Vocational Rehabilitation Program Evaluation and assisted in surveying Summit Group members regarding their learning needs. Dr. Darlene Groomes formed the Summit Reading Groups, which allows six Rehabilitation Professionals to study, discuss and apply content from a particular book over a period of generally five months. Dr. Steve Collins expanded the body of knowledge in Vocational Rehabilitation Program evaluation by co-submitting a proposal to the 38th Institute on Rehabilitation Issues, which focuses on proper methodology for Return on Investment and Economic Impact Studies. Many others have provided tireless support from the very beginning. The two core principles of this community of practice are that we are better off together than going it alone and that the best is yet to come.