Labor Day Week: Elena Polush on Honoring Mel Mark

This is part of a two-week series honoring our living evaluation pioneers in conjunction with Labor Day in the USA (September 5).

Greetings! I am Elena Polush, independent consultant and founding member of the Action Research Network of the Americas (ARNA). As I reflect on my education and work across various fields, evaluation is my passion; a path that has opened many doors. I would like to honor Melvin Mark. Interdisciplinary, actionable, dialogical, and relational nature grounded in valuing learning, diversity, different perspectives, moral commitment and orientation toward improvement and positive change are the evaluation attributes that I aspire and lenses through which I’ve crafted this narrative.

Why I chose to honor Melvin Mark:
Directly and indirectly people like Mel inspire and impact our professional identity, our being in this world. My entry to evaluation was through The Evaluators’ Institute. Mel’s courses on “Linking evaluation questions to analyses techniques,” “Informing practice using evaluation models and theories” were the first I took. Mel’s insights have continued shaping and informing my teaching about evaluation. I currently serve on an Advisory Board of which Mel is a member. As part of our activities, Mel presented an evaluation 101 for stakeholders. Expectations seemed to have been of Mel being an expert in the room and educating what evaluation is. Instead it became a conversation Mel sharing a story of evaluation and engaging everyone by reflecting on critical questions, “Why do we evaluate?” “Who do we do evaluation for?” “Why do we do evaluation at this point?” “Who do we hope to influence and in what way?” The focus was on describing, not prescribing. Mel transformed the room into a space of which everyone was part and eager to contribute personal knowledge/experiences. Within this interaction the complexity of evaluation was not trivialized, but rather embraced. During the remainder of our work, still wrestling with the notion of contingencies, stakeholders were motivated to dive into and take evaluation seriously. As the evaluator-facilitator Mel enabled learning that framed our experiences. Mel’s thinking and writing has extended my conception of evaluation to “social betterment,” view of evaluation as an ontological position. Mel advocates for an integrated evaluation framework.

Mel’s contribution to our field:
Mel’s service and contribution is immeasurable advancing theory and practice and associated issues/concerns (e.g., quality, rigor, evidence, uses); evaluation capacity; knowledge for democracy viewing social betterment as “the fundamental motivation for the field”; critical dispositions; evaluation across various fields, and future trends, including teaching evaluation and preparing new generations of evaluators. These shared perspectives are reflective of meaning of Mel Mark’s work and presence in my life as my teacher, mentor, and colleague.


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Labor Day Week in Evaluation: Honoring Evaluation’s Living Pioneers. The contributions this week are tributes to our living evaluation pioneers who have made important contributions to our field and even positive impacts on our careers as evaluators. 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


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