Coming soon to an intervention near you – SUSTAINABILITY!
Andy Rowe here, writing from long experience and physically from our small farm on Salt Spring Island off of the Canadian coast of British Columbia.
Years ago, when I was involved in the theory and practice of rapid social change, many of us argued that gender and race were the main divisions created by those with power to forestall significant social change. When others stated natural resources were also important we called them Malthusians. We were wrong. Race and gender are the main mechanisms creating social inequality, hardship, constraining human change and improvement, but the human system exists only in the context of natural systems which cannot continue to absorb our disregard and provide us with what we need. We now see significant adjustments to adapt to these fundamental sustainability issues. Evaluation can either contribute to these changes or get left behind.
Many evaluators have the implicit view that only the human system merits our attention. To a large extent this is because they accept that interventions should be evaluated against their intended outcomes and unintended and indirect effects. This means that evaluation works within the programmatic silos in which most interventions we exist. But in this period of significant transformation change agents, including evaluators, need to get in front of the curve and incorporate connectivity to other elements in the human and natural systems.
Example – within ten years, current models for locating and managing school sites will be unacceptable; sustainability requirements will have shifted expectations and standards. Decisions about school siting and site management will address costs of building on valuable carbon sequestration sites, remediate adverse effects of pollutant-carrying runoff from pavement, offset of global warming impacts from roofs and heating and cooling, and incorporate the incremental environmental and health costs of daily commuting. In other words siloed siting and site management decisions disconnected to environmental, human health and community effects will not be acceptable. For evaluation to contribute to positive change it will need to span the boundaries of existing programmatic silos across diverse systems and elements.
Hot Tip: Think about everything that makes our existing program theories happen. What natural resources are required inputs to, and are affected by, an intervention. Example: schools require land and adversely affect water. Check out UN Natural Capital’s site: TEEB – The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.
Rad Resources: Check out ISEAL Alliance stakeholder engagement process. Think about how many evaluation impacts we measure could meet the standards they have developed.
For school sites, start with EPA’s school siting guidance.
Google “Corporation and Sustainability” as in this example from Mars. Compare what this corporation is doing to the interventions you evaluate.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Environmental Program Evaluation Week with our colleagues in AEA’s 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. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.