Another great day, including meeting a group of awesome people around the topic of community development and cities (I’m an urban nerd at heart!). Lots of talk today about how to introduce and implement developmental evaluation practices, which can be difficult as the whole point of the field is to eschew the “one size fits all” approach: the focus, instead, is on critical inquiry and an ongoing focus on relationships and what the data means over a narrow approach based on specific models or methods.
One insight that came to me today relates to capacity building. My overarching aim for Strong Roots is to help non-profit organizations build the capacity to make a difference in the world (it even says so on the front page of this site!). That approach can easily lead to a focus on accessing concrete resources, with money and volunteer time being obvious examples, but it’s just as important for the organization to have the capacity to adapt to rapidly changing and complex circumstances. Possessing the skills and knowledge to capture information about program participants, the external context, and internal functioning is crucial, as is the ability to make sense of that data and decide how to act on it: a developmental evaluator can help collect and analyze data along the way, and more importantly act as that “critical friend” who can point out the unstated assumptions and values at play and help lead discussions on the potential impact of decisions. Workshop presenter Michael Quinn Patton referenced a quote from General Robert E Lee, “I am often surprised, but I am never taken by surprise” – if I can help an organization learn to navigate all the unanticipated consequences and outcomes that are inherent in working with people and social systems so that they are never caught unprepared, I would say that my aim of building capacity has been met!
Tonight I’m meeting a friend from high school who I haven’t seen in years, and tomorrow (starting bright and early!) is a one-day workshop on participatory methods on evaluation, followed by the start of the conference proper. Until then!