In search of Blue Marble Evaluators

Planet Earth as seen from space

You can't see the Earth as a globe unless you get at least twenty thousand miles away from it.  On December 7, 1972, the first photograph was taken of the whole Earth from space.  That photo became known as The Blue Marble Shot.

The Blue Marble perspective means thinking globally, holistically, and systemically; in essence, thinking of the whole world and its peoples as the focus of evaluation (the evaluand). This means thinking beyond a world of nation-states. What would it mean to take a truly global perspective in evaluation?  What would it mean to view evaluation through the Blue Marble Lens?

The Global Challenge

Evaluation has become an international profession and transdiscipline.  The thrust of the International Year of Evaluation (2015) was building national evaluation capacity around the world including strengthening competence of national and international evaluators. The result is that national and regional evaluation capacities have been demonstrably enhanced.  The focus of most M&E capacity-building has been on approaches and tools for monitoring and evaluating traditional projects, programs, policies, plans, and international agency sector initiatives. But global problems require global solutions and global systems evaluation. Albert Einstein observed:

"We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them."

Global challenges like climate change, massive cross-border movement of displaced persons, virulent super-viruses and contagious diseases that threaten world health, dying oceans, global terrorism, global food insecurity, global economic interdependence, and multinational capitalism, to name but a few examples, operate beyond national borders and regional or sectoral domains.  Technology knows no national or agency boundaries. Moreover, these global systems and challenges are interconnected and dynamic.  Global innovators and global systems change initiatives are beginning to think and act from the perspective of a complex, dynamic, and interconnected world system. Evaluators need special perspectives and competencies to engage and evaluate these global change efforts, to monitor, improve, help develop, and ultimately judge the effectiveness, efficiency, relevance, and sustainability of these global change efforts.  This involves much more than monitoring performance indicators and sustainable development goals. It means bringing   the full arsenal of evaluation thinking, tools, methods, and processes to bear at a global level -- and creating new approaches appropriate to the challenges of global systems evaluation. 

Global systems change evaluation

Global systems change evaluation should be genuinely global and make the Earth and the whole human family the unit of analysis. Globalization is treated often as a threat to cultural diversity and sustainability, with concerns about global homogenization and global commercialization permeating and overwhelming local cultures and contexts.  This is an important concern. Indeed, the effects of globalization on cultural diversity should be part of the agenda of inquiry for Blue Marble Evaluators.  Healthy systems manifest resilience through diversity.

Still, global problems transcend national and agency boundaries.  Experts disagree about the severity, scope, and urgency of global challenges, but the essentially global essence of major problems is not in doubt. Consider the loss of diversity through species extinction.

The Holocene extinction, sometimes called the Sixth Extinction, describes

"the current and ongoing loss of species during the present epoch mainly due to human activity -- spanning numerous families of plants and animals -- including mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and arthropods. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources estimates the present rate of extinction may be up to 140,000 species per year." 

(Kolbert, 2014)

Global evaluation opportunities

Global issues are being addressed in international think tanks, through global philanthropic initiatives, at global conferences, and through international cooperative agreements.  For evaluation to play its appropriate role in these initiatives and through these diverse platforms, for evaluation to be invited to the table where global initiatives are the focus and make a contribution to solving global problems, we need evaluators knowledgeable about and competent in global systems analysis.  We need Blue Marble Evaluators.

Ironically, perhaps, it has been the International Year of Evaluation with its important emphasis on building national evaluation capacity that led me to the realization that enhancing national evaluation capacity, though much needed, will be inadequate to address global issues. I reiterate: Global issues and global problems require global systems change evaluation.  The future of the planet and the human family is at stake. Our divisions, the ultimate legacy of colonialism and imperialism, undermine collective action.  Yet only collective action can save us. Evaluation can and should contribute to that collective action. To make our contribution, we will need Blue Marble Evaluators.

Your say

What is your view on the need for Blue Marble Evaluators? If needed, what competencies, perspectives, knowledge base, methods, frameworks, and other capabilities should Blue Marble Evaluators exhibit? Where do you see opportunities for Blue Marble Evaluation?

Share your responses here or on the Blue Marble Evaluation website.

If you'd like to learn more about Blue Marble Evaluation, you can participate in three free webinars, supported by the Faster Forward Fund, in partnership with World Savvy and Utilization-Focused Evaluation, on 16 March, 20 April and 18 May 2016.  You can also participate in a 2 day fee-paying course on Global Systems Evaluation at IPDET (International Program for Development Effectiveness Training) in Ottawa, Canada, 23-24 June 2016.