This is my second time attending an AEA conference, which should theoretically have prepared me for the size and sheer energy that comes with these events: that being said, I’m still a bit overwhelmed! After a great workshop yesterday on systems thinking, the opening plenary provided a insightful keynote by AEA president Beverly Parsons introducing the theme of Visionary Evaluation For a Sustainable and Equitable world, together with a panel discussion including 14-year old Indigenous activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez of Earth Guardians. I didn’t attend any further presentations after that, but did connect with colleauges from the Community Psychology, Systems in Evaluation, and Evaluation Use Topic Interest Groups (TIGs) at a social event last night.
In this whirlwind, I’ve consistently noticed three key points:
Evaluators need to look at the bigger picture
From the systems thinking perspective, inter-relationships between elements of a system can have large impacts that are often difficult to control for. While we need to draw boundaries around what’s in and what’s not for an evaluation (else we would quickly run out of time, money, and sanity), we need to recognize that a program supporting high school students is affected by factors including families, neighbourhoods, schools, and public policy.
Evaluators need to think about design
I attended a great session this morning, which included presentations by Cameron Norman and Chi Yan Lam on the intersection of design and evaluation. The creativity and tools used by designers to understand their users and create applications to meet their needs fit well with the evaluation focus on articulating models of change and determining impact. During the session, I came up with an equation – Design Creativity + Evaluation Rigour + Vision and Principles = A More Sustainable, Equitable World – does this ring true for you?
Evaluators need to reflect and be critical
By critical, I don’t mean focusing on shortcomings exclusively, but asking hard questions about program purpose, who benefits, who has access to resources, and whose knowledge is valued. The workshop yesterday introduced the Critical Systems Heuristic tool which I look forward to introducing to clients, as well as turning inward on my own work as a consultant and change agent.
I’m about to head off on the field trip to the Women’s Bean social enterprise, but keep an eye on Twitter for the latest insights and ideas from the conference!