AEA's Annual Conference brings together evaluators from around the country and around the world for professional sharing. Evaluation 2019 will be held in Minneapolis, MN on November 11 to 16.
Paths to the Future of Evaluation
The international evaluation community is on its path toward a global evaluation agenda focused on building strong national evaluation systems everywhere, and incorporating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in its methods and practice. In the United States, while evaluation is institutionalized in the federal government, it is not consistently incorporated in state and local governments. We have witnessed steps backward with the questioning of science, leading to the March for Science, and steps forward with the recent adoption of the bipartisan legislation on evidence-informed policy making by the U.S. Congress.
In the United States and around the world, we find our profession in the midst of controversy, in a time where facts are heavily debated through ideological lenses and where people have difficulty finding common ground. We seem to disagree even when we agree; we speak past each other, while many actors are now claiming the title of “fact tellers.”
In this era of discord and mistrust, the role of evaluation is to provides trusted, credible, and balanced conclusions about the quality, importance, and value of what is relevant in our society, based on solid evidence. At the American Evaluation Association (AEA), “we value high quality, ethically defensible, culturally responsive evaluation practices that lead…ultimately to the enhancement of the public good.” We, as a profession, aspire to be a group that brings calm competence, reflects and learns through experience, and strives for excellent evaluations that inform citizens about the effectiveness and efficiency of important public and private programs. We believe our role as evaluators is to increase our society’s capacity, both international and national, to make better decisions.
This year, the theme Paths to the Future of Evaluation: Contribution, Leadership, and Renewal invites us to have conversations about how to be relevant to the key issues of our society, increase our society’s capacity to understand looming issues and tradeoffs, and enable our communities to have informed conversations about the way forward. AEA invites you to engage and discuss our rich experience and the contributions of evaluation, our strategies for leadership, and our actions for renewal on the following four areas:
- Addressing the key issues our society faces. As we conduct evaluations―whether at international, national, or local level―we evaluate in a context influenced by massive migration (and the economic and social challenges that accompany it), climate change disasters, epidemic threats, and shifts in resources through economic globalization.
What are the key issues of our time, and how does evaluation take them into account? In what way do our evaluations help our stakeholders understand the impact of these issues locally?
- Applying and innovating methods and practices to evaluate in the context of important societal challenges. Evaluators operate within the very contexts of the projects they evaluate. Big data, data analytics, evaluating in emergency settings, and data visualization are just a few examples of developments that are influencing our profession. Methodological and process decisions in our evaluations are driven by purpose.
As skilled evaluators, how do we adapt, combine, and apply our methods to bring about razor-sharp insight—insight that generates learning and enables people to have more productive conversations about what matters? How do we design evaluations that address systemic issues and support constructive action? As we look forward, how do we innovate and test our methods to help us be most effective in today’s context?
- Leaving no one behind. When more than 150 countries adopted the SDG Global Agenda 2030, they embraced equity, diversity and a commitment to protect human rights for all. The AEA values diversity and inclusion both in evaluation practice and in the operation of the association.
Practically speaking, when we implement evaluations, we are usually implementing a contract and have obligations to clients, supervisors, and other stakeholders. How do we ensure our evaluation practices leave no one behind—i.e., promote and ensure equity, diversity, and the protection of human rights for all involved and affected by our evaluations?
- Leading through evaluation. When we step into the profession of evaluation, we frequently challenge how people perceive controversial societal issues and threaten those invested in the status quo with the potential challenges we might uncover. While our study of evaluation helps us to develop technical skills, it does not necessarily equip us with the emotional intelligence needed to handle the anxiety our presence may potentially stir. And yet, we must stay the course, stay independent and impartial, think calmly and creatively, act methodically and insightfully, consult with all sides, include members of marginalized communities, and manage an evaluation that frames things systematically and provides credible answers to the most important questions.
How do we contribute to an action-agenda for solutions and not just document the identification of problems? And how do we prepare ourselves to be effective evaluators as we step into “wicked,” controversial issues in our society?
This is an invitation for conversations among all AEA members—evaluators, evaluation users, instructors and students of evaluation, evaluation scholars and thought leaders—on the evaluation profession’s path forward. Building the future of the evaluation practice begins with an assessment and appreciation of the past contribution of evaluation to society, considering the issues where we need to bring leadership, and then looking ahead at what the world is asking us to become for the renewal of our profession. By identifying times when we have been at our best, we gain confidence and momentum to imagine the best paths to the future. In the wise words of Gladys Hasty Caroll: