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

May/17

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Memorial Week in Evaluation: Memorializing Language by Michael Quinn Patton

I’m Michael Quinn Patton, an independent evaluation scientist.  Last year for the Memorial Day holiday in the USA, AEA365 featured a series remembering and celebrating the contributions of distinguished evaluators no longer with us. This year we thought we’d memorialize obsolete and problematic evaluation terminology. I invited colleagues to consider memorializing outdated concepts, dubious terms, and approaches that are alleged to have died, are being threatened with death, are in a zombie state, need to be resurrected or revitalized, or otherwise eulogized or appreciated. Over the next week, you’ll be treated to several such ruminations, stimulated by our current political environment and accompanying linguistic turmoil.

The Cambridge Dictionary selects a Word of the Year every year and, as you may have seen in the news, their word for 2016 was “post-truth,” as in “we live in a post-truth era.” Thus, we might memorialize the demise of TRUTH: tongue-in-cheek, or seriously, or sarcastically, or with whatever tone would strike you as appropriate in eulogizing truth.

In the same terminological funeral we might eulogize facts, which have succumbed to an onslaught of “alternative facts.” Or news – superseded by “fake news.”

I facilitated a Think Tank session at AEA two years ago on evaluation terminology and invited participants to identify and discuss terms or phrases they thought should be retired from the profession. Candidates included: “Gold Standard” design and “Best Practices.”

Language is dynamic. Terms come and go, as do ways of describing who we are and what we do.

Defending science against anti-science rhetoric and politics

On April 22, 2017, thousands marched for science in 600 cities worldwide. The American Evaluation Association was one of 270 partner organizations that supported the March for Science (https://www.marchforscience.com/partners/).  The questions of the day were, naturally enough: Are you a scientist? What kind? If not, what’s your connection to science? In that context, marching in support of science and combatting anti-science political rhetoric, I tried on a new identity. “I’m an evaluation scientist,” I said. “I do evaluation science.”

At first the phrase felt strange, awkward, even alien. And, of course, I had to explain what evaluation science is, which I got better at as the March progressed.  Indeed, I reveled in explaining evaluation science.  So, this is an invitation to consider coming out as an evaluation scientist.  Try on the cloak of science. See how it feels.  Feel how it wears. Say the words out loud, first to yourself, then to others. “I am an evaluation scientist. I do evaluation science.” In that way, we make common cause with other scientists.

Rad Resource:  AEA eStudy on Evaluation Science, June 14, 15, 20, 22, 2017.

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Memorial Week in Evaluation. The contributions this week are remembrances of evaluation concepts, terms, or approaches. 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.

3 comments

  • Lyn Shulha · May 29, 2017 at 9:30 am

    I enjoyed reading this this morning Michael! I am wondering whether you think there is any difference in interpretation or impact between calling ourselves, “evaluation scientists” and “social scientists in evaluation”? This is a description I have always felt comfortable embracing.

    Either way, we agree that we are engaged in a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes new knowledge/understandings (science); and, that in doing so we must attend to warrants that are grounded in something more substantial than rhetoric. For me, one valuable spin off of embedding my work in a scientific stance is that it requires me to clarify the boundaries for any certainties I have and reminds me how much I have yet to learn!

    Reply

    • MQP · May 29, 2017 at 7:29 pm

      Lyn,

      I quite agree with the overall implication you’ve made. For me, evaluation scientist places more emphasis on evaluation while social scientist in evaluation emphasizes more the social science. Either way, highlighting our engagement in the scientific community is the point, so that we can make common cause with other scientists. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply

    • MQP · May 29, 2017 at 7:29 pm

      Lyn,

      I quite agree with the overall implication you’ve made. For me, evaluation scientist places more emphasis on evaluation while social scientist in evaluation emphasizes more the social science. Either way, highlighting our engagement in the scientific community is the point, so that we can make common cause with other scientists. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply

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