AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

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Anne Cullen Puente and April Bender on 6 Ways to Sharpen Your Evaluation with Mindfulness Principles

Hi, we’re Anne Cullen Puente and April Bender, evaluators at the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We were really excited by Michael Quinn Patton’s June 2014 article in the American Journal of Evaluation where he encouraged evaluators to develop our self-reflexivity and deeply consider our own thinking patterns. We couldn’t agree more, and believe that mindful evaluation could be helpful for doing just that.

Mindfulness can be thought of as a theoretical construct, a type of awareness, and/or specific meditation practices. Some people approach mindfulness through meditation; others by simply adopting a lens of curiosity. The underlying thread is awareness of the present moment. The now.

Mindful evaluation isn’t a specific method, but rather an invitation to be deeply aware and present in all stages of the evaluation process. When we do so, we no longer operate on autopilot but give thought to what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how we are doing it.

Hot Tips: Here are six tips for building the self-reflexivity Patton advises:

  1. Set an intention to be more mindful. Research shows that outcomes correlate with intentions, so having a personal vision for what you want to get out of your mindfulness practice is important. 
  1. Bring full attention. Mindfulness is all about cultivating attention to thoughts, feelings, and actions. One easy way to do this is to minimize distraction. Whether writing a report or analyzing data, do just that. Avoid multi-tasking, don’t work with 20 browsers/windows open, etc….
  1. Become aware. People who practice mindfulness report greater insight into their mental processes and emotions. Ask questions like, What am I thinking? What am I feeling? What does this remind me of and why? What are my intended goals? 
  1. Practice deep listening. When you listen to others, do so with genuine curiosity. Often our training in social science methods kicks in automatically. We start to analyze what we’re hearing while the other person is talking. This can be helpful in reducing the amount of time we spend analyzing later, but it interferes with our ability to truly listen.
  1. Stay curious and open. Have fun and experiment. Don’t operate on autopilot. Try to stay open to novel ideas, approaches, opportunities, and differing perspectives. 
  1. Suspend judgment. Evaluation is all about judgment—evaluative judgments based on quality evidence and standards. But people tend to make opinions based on biases and preconceived ideas. Consider a more mindful approach: examine your motivations, recognize that you have an opinion and set that opinion aside, seek alternative hypotheses, ask clarifying questions, gather evidence, and THEN make an evaluative judgment.

Rad Resources:

Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

Fetzer Institute blog

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 comments

  • Alishia Ellis · February 29, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Hello Ms Puente and Ms Bender,

    In the busy world that we live in, we are often tempted to multitask, leading to the decrease in focus and mindfulness. Important tasks such as eating dinner with the family are being overlooked and are taking place less with the rush of our modern lives. I was deeply moved by your AEA365 post on the application of mindfulness to evaluation. I am aware of the plethora of benefits of mindfulness, however hadn’t thought of its application to evaluation until now. Mindfulness has initiated positive physical, mental and emotional effects, including stress, pain, disease, depression and anxiety, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that mindfulness can positively impact our professional lives as well. I was most inspired when you mentioned that we should be aware of the present rather than running on autopilot. When we become very familiar with a process, we often go through the typical stages of the procedure and are less likely to deeply reflect or consider the uniqueness of the situation. Working without mindfulness prevents open minded thinking and creativity while triggering frustration, stress and low productivity. Your proposed suggestions to become more mindful while evaluating were valuable as a Masters student in a course on evaluation and as an educator. As I read through and considered your tips, I made many connections of how the application of mindfulness would benefit most careers, roles, work projects and environments. Completing tasks with intent, attention, awareness and curiosity would lend to more thoughtful, creative, clear, and individualized outcomes. Thank-you very much for this inspiring post – I will certainly keep it in mind while considering evaluations and many other tasks for that matter!

    Cheers, Alishia

    Reply

  • Anne Heberger Marino · January 12, 2015 at 9:11 am

    Without a doubt, mindfulness practices enhance evaluation practice.Thank you both for bringing mindfulness to AEA in November and to the 365 blog. I hope the conversations you’ve sparked will grow.

    Reply

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