IC TIG Week: Iterating, Creating, and otherwise Innovating in Evaluation Practice by Norma Martínez-Rubin

Hello! I’m Norma Martínez-Rubin, a California-based independent evaluation consultant and aspiring harmonica player. I’m attracted to the practical, accessible, and marvelous. To me, creativity typically conjures musical endeavors and the dramatic and visual arts produced in the entertainment field. It’s likely we’ve all enjoyed the arts as patrons and supporters. There’s even more fun when, along with an interdisciplinary team, we’re the ones who help create and produce something influential or inspiring.

In evaluation, allowing for spontaneity and unstructured discussion to design a study fosters creativity. Adding a playful sense of humor makes producing early drafts, even when edited, a valuable collection of lessons learned. Plus, laughing through tedious proofreading or chipping away at writer’s block with some lightheartedness makes it pierceable. Such a state of mind has helped me get through a project proposal.

Co-creation of data collection methods is another opportunity for playful interaction that can balance the seriousness and structure often required in research and analyses. The resulting work (e.g., an evaluation proposal, an environmental scan, a data report) shows up as genuine work and demonstrates a collaborative spirit. Further, when you invite community members whom you serve to join you, there are possibilities to creatively integrate culturally derived practices with methodological rigor. The results can be awe-inspiring and fulfilling all around.

To me, live jazz performances are a model of creativity and innovation. Traditional riffs elevate audience moods. Harmonious notes followed by soloists’ improvisations are pure excitement. So, learning to play the humble harmonica aligns with a simplicity that, when done well, can joyfully fill a room to stir the senses. Evaluation stirs me that way, too, and more so when done in partnership with creative, spunky, thoughtful colleagues. Find those who’ve discovered the upside of responding with “yes, and …” rather than “yes, but…” When you do, creativity will follow.

Hot Tips

  • Give yourself the freedom and time to create something, anything (more than once).
  • Ignore self-imposed boundaries and find gain in your mistakes.

To write this blog post I began with a word, thought about it when away from my keyboard, formed sentences, proceeded to paragraphs, made my “delete” key a friend, liberally cut and pasted text, and kept at it!

Cool Tricks

  • Playfully engage your senses and make time for multisensory activities (e.g., take nature walks, revisit neighborhood spots with a tourist’s curiosity)
  • Have an honest answer to “What do you do for fun?”
  • Buddy up to mentally or physically exercise, build upon each other’s half-formed-but soon-to-be-marvelous ideas then follow through to ideate, iterate, and innovate!

With an analytical orientation being the default for evaluative thinking, boosting creative flow means scheduling downtime to exercise the right side of your brain. That’s the side that helps you daydream and imagine what you’ll schedule after meeting a deadline.

Norma Martínez-Rubin having down time on the couch with dog Jazz.
Norma Martínez-Rubin with Jazz

Rad Resources

The collegiality within the American Evaluation Association Topical Interest Groups and the Advancing Culturally Responsive and Equitable Evaluation Network can be inspiring and particularly helpful to independent evaluation consultants who often are solopreneurs. Find your place and enjoy!


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating IC TIG Week with our colleagues in the Independent Consulting Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our IC 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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