If you followed my previous dispatches from the 2014 American Evaluation Association conference in Denver (or my rapid-fire tweeting during the conference), you can guess that I really enjoyed the experience. It was great to meet some evaluation social media celebrities in person –Chris Lysy, Sheila Robinson, and Kylie Hutchinson, to name a few -, re-connect with friends and colleagues including Sarah Farina of Broadleaf Consulting, Elizabeth McGee, and my co-conspirator Chi Yan Lam, and of course build new connections with people around the world doing neat work in the field of evaluation. There were tons of great sessions and plenary discussions and the visit to the Women’s Bean Project provided great inspiration and ideas for social enterprises (as well as a bag of chocolate-covered espresso beans to keep me going through the long days!). Although I returned to Saskatoon physically and mentally exhausted, I feel inspired and excited about the developments in this field.
One common thread for the conference was the sharing of six-word stories, inspired by a challenge to Ernest Hemingway (his response: “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn”). At a session on the last day of the conference, we were challenged to come up with a six-word story describing our personal experiences with the intersection of systems thinking and evaluation – the following (slightly modified) is my contribution:
Bring open mind
On further reflection, I realized that these six words encapsulate the approach that I aspire to live out in my practice. Open mind, for new ideas and perspectives that could provide new insights, as well as new partnerships and resources to draw on to create community change. Open heart, to listen to and share stories, to be attentive to values and the ways in which research and evaluation can privilege or disempower individuals. Mindfulness (inspired by a great session on Mindful Evaluation!), to be aware of my own background and ways of thinking and doing, and to be able to step back from over-analyzing and just take in what I’m seeing and hearing.
(Orignally, the last word was “Aspirin”, to reflect that too much systems thinking can lead to headaches – I think “Mindfulness” is a more positive approach to the issue, though my first choice of words brings a bit more humour).
If I take nothing further away from the conference that those six words, I would still be satisfied. As it is, I have many resources, business cards, and sparks of ideas to pursue – stay tuned!
If you were at AEA2014, what were some highlights for you? Share in the comments below or via Twitter!