Nathan Browning here. I am an independent evaluation & research consultant. I am blessed to work with a lot of different kinds of clients. I occasionally write prose.
I am cruising. I am cruising toward truth. I am cruising toward truth through Evaluation Highway. I meander across the thoroughfare, violating dashed lines, slowing to feel the breeze. Others also take the paths. Some group in convoys, some travel alone. At the outset, the dashed lines are suggestions, even possibilities. For some, they are finality. I see cruisers rushing straight, speeding along toward destination.
At the outset, we are unlimited. We learn the paths. I see former cruisers with construction tools, renewing old tracks. They must have reached truth. They have come to get us there more quickly. A cruiser passes by me, yelling, “Stay in your lane, buddy!” I look ahead. Guardrails. The dashed lines give way to rusted metal, and we are trapped. Convoys congregate, paths widen, but they separate from one another.
Before, we all traveled together. Now, progression in our individual journeys fractures our collective one. Where lanes do intersect, cruisers on de-prioritized paths wait until prioritized paths are clear before they can safely and effectively continue. We become limited.
It is also unclear where we are even going. In the beginning, I assumed we would arrive at the same destination. With the winding, twisting, and separate nature of our cruising paths, that now seems impossible. As I continue along the route chosen for me, the other cruisers become more distant, and I lose sight of different paths. Occasionally paths cross, but these junctions invoke conflict rather than harmony.
In the imagery above, what kind of vehicle did you picture? If you’re from the US or any other car-dependent place, you probably pictured cars. Our Dutch friends pictured may have pictured bicycles. There is an outside chance that some of you pictured buses or trains. I doubt anyone pictured unicycles, scooters, or hoverboards.
It is nearly impossible to escape our assumptions.
Recently, someone in an interview asked me how I would objectively determine whether a certain decision should be made. I told them that I don’t believe in objectivity. We are a product of how and where we were raised and what we have experienced. Even the tools we create and use are influenced by our assumptions and biases.
Coming to terms with ourselves in our research (a guide to positionality)
In the social sciences, a common icebreaker or introductory question is, “Do you prefer quantitative or qualitative methods?” I find this question incredibly strange. To me, it is like asking whether I prefer a hammer or a screwdriver. For a particular project, I might need one or the other. Often I will need to use both to accomplish different parts of a project. I don’t think every evaluator sees it this way, but they should.
As an independent consultant, I relish being a jack of all – or at least many – trades. In fact, it is almost necessary, as I deal with many different types of projects. Being a generalist allows for a creativity in solving problems that I’m not sure I could achieve if I instead sped down a single lane. I seek intersections more like hubs – places where you can stop, learn, engage with other cruisers, and maybe transfer to another path if it makes sense for where you need to go. To me, cruising is most fulfilling when we have the freedom to glide from lane to lane.
On which path will you cruise?
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