Hello from Tamara Walser and Kirsten Kainz! Tamara is a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Kirsten is a research professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. We both enjoy the Carolina coast and talking about evaluation, particularly how the evaluation field has evolved and where we hope it’s headed. We’ve discussed an ongoing barrier for the field—that is, misunderstanding of and disagreement about what evaluation is and is not, both within the evaluation field and among the general public.
Many outside the evaluation field think evaluation is a skill set or tool. Insiders may consider it a field, a discipline, a transdiscipline, or a science. Some think evaluation is a type of applied research; others think it’s distinct from research. Forms of inquiry that may include evaluative thinking and action, such as data analytics, design thinking, and improvement science, further confuse matters.
In his popular book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek defines WHY as a purpose, cause, or belief—the reason for existence. Why do evaluators do what they do? What is our purpose and cause? Definitions and descriptions of evaluation commonly focus on WHAT we do. Most converge on actions of valuing—determining merit or worth. Some articulate a purpose, such as supporting decision-making or improvement. Although we may find general agreement on this version of what we do and why, it reinforces evaluation as a skillset or tool and falls short of capturing the values of the evaluation community and the transformative WHY of our work.
What are your values as an evaluator?
What is your evaluation cause?
Language related to transformative purposes and causes exists, for example, in AEA Values Statements and Guiding Principles for Evaluators; however, this language is not articulated in common definitions of evaluation and shared with those outside the field. Finding our WHY requires the evaluation community to deliberate and determine our values and cause—and to center our WHY in definitions and descriptions of evaluation.
As part of the upcoming EVAL2021 conference, we’re hosting a think tank to reflect on the evaluation community’s WHY at 35. We hope to see you there!
These readings and resources are a few among many that inspire us to consider the transformative WHY of evaluation. What inspires you?—Please respond in the comments.
- How Far Dare an Evaluator Go Toward Saving the World? Redux, Update, and a Reflective Practice Facilitation Tool
- Equitable Evaluation Initiative
- Does Evaluation Contribute to the Public Good?
- Education for Intelligent Belief in Evaluation
- Evaluating System Change: A Planning Guide
- Evaluation and Organizational Learning: Past, Present, and Future
- The Center for Effective Philanthropy
- Deconstructing the Birdcage: How Social Entrepreneurs Are Catalyzing Systems Change
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