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AEA Conference – Day 1

It’s the end of day 1 at the American Evaluation Conference, and so far it’s been a great experience! In addition to the content of the workshop itself (more on that below), I had the opportunity to chat with people from academia, research institutions, government, and non-profits doing work in an array of fields. The breadth of experiences that just a handful of people around a table represented was amazing, as was the friendliness and sense of connection that I haven’t felt at conferences in other disciplines or fields. I definitely look forward to connecting with more attendees during the coming days!

The workshop with Michael Quinn Patton on developmental evaluation has provided many insights – over 1500 words in my notes file from today, including asides to myself on ideas to share through the blog or that colleagues may find especially relevant to their situation. One that I want to share right now revolves around objectives and outcomes. Evaluation has traditionally focused on a linear approach, with specific and measurable outcomes defined before starting a program which would be used to determine whether a program succeeded (if you’ve seen or created a logic model, you know what I’m talking about!). However, innovators tackling complex issues may not be able to articulate what “success” is, but they would know what it looks like when they see it. The job of the developmental evaluator is not to prematurely force innovators to pick what their success is, but to help them work through the questions and decision points, articulate the reasoning behind the approaches they take, and generally tell the story of the successes (and failures!) of the initiative. In today’s business world, no venture would rigidly follow a five-year plan today (or even a one-year plan), as circumstances change too rapidly and require the ability to adapt: yet most evaluation plans assume that the outcomes we choose today will still be important once the program has run its course. Patton cited the quote “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy”, and that’s equally true of a program or intervention that works with the complexity of people and communities.

That’s an extremely brief summary of one insight from today: there’s lot more that I could share from today, but I’m going to head out soon for dinner with a colleague of mine from Kingston. More to come tomorrow!