#Eval15 Week: Tom Archibald on The Great Evaluative Thinking Scavenger Hunt at Evaluation 2015

I’m Tom Archibald, Chief of Party of the USAID/Education and Research in Agriculture project in Senegal and Assistant Professor of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education at Virginia Tech. I’ve just arrived in Chicago and am looking forward to another exciting week full of learning, connecting, and fun! Jane Buckley and I are getting ready for our workshop on evaluative thinking (ET), “Evaluative Thinking: Principles and Practices to Promote Exemplary Evaluation.”

What is ET, you might ask? In essence, ET is critical thinking applied to contexts of program planning and evaluation. More specifically, we define ET as:

critical thinking applied in the context of evaluation, motivated by an attitude of inquisitiveness and a belief in the value of evidence, that involves identifying assumptions, posing thoughtful questions, pursuing deeper understanding through reflection and perspective taking, and informing decisions in preparation for action.

And what better place to practice ET than at the annual AEA conference!? Put another way, how ironic would it be if we somehow spent this week together without practicing ET?

To that end, I’ll be playing a little game of ET scavenger hunt this year, and I invite you to play along. The rules are simple. Any time you see or hear ET in action, or hear ET discussed (either explicitly or implicitly), whether in a professional development workshop, a conference session, in the hallways, or even at a social event, tweet it to @aeaweb with the hashtag #evalthink (and include #Eval15 if you can to tag it to the conference). If you don’t tweet, you can just say out loud, “Oh, that’s evaluative thinking!” People might think you’re odd, but that is OK.

In our workshop, Jane and I offer a list of ideas on how one might “know it when you see it.” To give you some hints to help you with your scavenger hunt, here are some of those ideas:

Things you may hear:

  • Why are we assuming X?
  • How do we know X?
  • How might we be wrong about X?
  • What evidence do we have for X?
  • What is the thinking behind the way we do X?
  • How could we do X better?
  • How does X connect to our intended outcomes?
  • Stakeholder X’s perspective on this might be Y!

Things you may see:

  • More evidence gathering and sharing
  • More feedback (all directions)
  • Reflective conversations among staff, beneficiaries, leadership, etc.
  • More diagrams/models used to illustrate thinking
  • Program evolution
  • More effective staff and programs
  • Greater field staff influence over project decisions

People often look for ways to get the most out of the conference. I propose that an ET scavenger hunt, and taking on an ET mindset while at the conference, can enhance your experience and help you go home with new insights and lessons.

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 thoughts on “#Eval15 Week: Tom Archibald on The Great Evaluative Thinking Scavenger Hunt at Evaluation 2015”

  1. Great idea, Tom. Look forward to joining in the evaluative thinking scavenger hunt. Some more questions I’ll be listening for:

    What would success look like?
    What are the criteria or domains of success?
    What standards of performance will be satisfactory or excellent?
    How will performance across different domains be synthesised? Are there hurdle requirements? Weighting?

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