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EPE TIG Week: Finding Hope and Optimism in Environmental Work by Rupu Gupta

Hello! I’m Rupu Gupta, Senior Scientist for Social Sciences and Evaluation at the Hudson River Foundation, and Program Chair of the American Evaluation Association’s Environmental Program Evaluation (EPE) TIG.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what keeps all of us who are invested in environmental welfare motivated and excited.

Environmental evaluators are part of a larger interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral community striving to tackle intractable challenges, like biodiversity loss, species extinction, environmental degradation, and a rapidly warming climate. Simultaneously, we’re also acknowledging how people’s lives are intrinsically connected with these environmental changes, with disproportionate effects in health, livelihoods, quality of life, among other outcomes. Importantly, this community aims to identify equitable and just solutions to our grave social-ecological challenges.

So it’s understandable that there is a collective sense of grief, fatigue, and helplessness, as our efforts involving complex processes, take time to come to fruition.

Yet, we persevere and do our part to improve the environment and support those who lead those efforts, through our distinct skills, knowledge, and expertise. I believe we do so because we see light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long, winding, or temporally distant it may be, because of our work today. We have conviction that we can make a difference through the actions we have agency over.

Echoing research that’s found that hope tied to specific climate actions spur engagement, when they emphasize personal efficacy. In other words, messages of hope and optimism to motivate climate action, are especially effective when they help people envision ways they can personally contribute to solutions. I am optimistic about our environment-focused work for these reasons because we embody these emotions and beliefs through personally meaningful actions.

I leave you with the following to consider for your environmental evaluation work.

Hot Tips

1. Find your community

Being part of a group to share resources and support is critical to sustain us. For example, communities of practice of climate educators provide valuable communal support via continuous exchange and learning. It is vital to find shared environmental interests to collaborate on, despite our unique approaches.

The EPE TIG community has been that home for me for long now. More recently, I find hope and joy in joining my colleagues at the Hudson River Foundation in jointly contributing to the welfare of the Hudson River, estuary, and watershed, in partnership with scientists, policy makers, and the general public.

2. Critically examine what “success” means

It is daunting to assess impacts when goals involve improving ecological systems or policy-level change. In these contexts, what are relevant indicators of “change” that we can shed light on? How do different stakeholders grow their capacity to better care for the environment? Importantly, what is our role as evaluators in surfacing realistic, yet hopeful stories of how people protect the environment?

At the Foundation, we’re having internal workshopping exercises about the impacts of our programs and offerings. We’re digging into identifying processes, outcomes, and outputs that characterize how our multi-sectoral partners, build their stewardship capacity. The process is highlighting the complexity of the ongoing work, its connection to systems-level change, and the steps embedded along the way.

3. Prioritize self-care

Make time for yourself and your chosen community to appreciate and reflect on the work you do to take care of the environment. Acknowledge how emotional the work is, and that you are not alone in this journey.   

Join us this week and beyond

This week’s posts demonstrates the myriad ways environmental evaluators contribute to environmental betterment through their unique roles. Enjoy and forge your own path ahead!

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Environmental Program Evaluation TIG Week with our colleagues in the Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our EPE TIG members. 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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