Hello, evaluation colleagues! I am Jennifer Greene, a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, just a short trip on I-57 through the corn and soybean fields due south of Chicago. The Department of Educational Psychology has long been the home of evaluation at Illinois (for close to half a century, thanks to Bob Stake), even though my department colleagues still wonder just what it is we do. And corn and soybean fields offer distinctive horizons for me, as I am more accustomed to the hills, forests, and beaches of the northeastern US.
These contrasts raise the central issue of context in evaluation. We all know that the contexts in which our evaluands take place are inextricably intertwined with the program as envisioned, implemented, experienced, and judged. And regarding this program context, Saville Kushner has profoundly challenged us to ask not, “how well are participants doing in the program?” but rather “how well does the program serve, respect, and respond to these participants’ needs, hopes, and dreams in this place?”
But what about the contexts that shape evaluator knowledge, commitments, and identity? What influences our own journeys through the variegated evaluation landscapes of yesterday, today, and soon tomorrow? What do we believe is the primary role of evaluation in society? What constitutes warranted evaluation knowledge? What values can evaluation legitimately and defensibly advance? And where do these beliefs and commitments come from?
In my view, this self-knowledge is important because it informs our understanding of our professional selves and thereby the character of our professional practice. Further, if this self-knowledge is intentional, defensible, and coherent, it can also enhance the quality of our evaluation practice and our own biographical footprint in the contexts in which we work. This is tricky, as evaluation does not and should not offer a venue for self-expression. Evaluation is not about the evaluator. But recognizing the inevitable presence of ourselves in our work, and actively cultivating the kind of presence we wish to have, can matter to what difference we make in the world. David Williams of Brigham Young University has initiated a project documenting evaluator biographies, and how they have shaped evaluator identities. I encourage all evaluators to engage in such self-reflection.
Kushner, S. (2000). Personalizing evaluation. Sage.
Williams, D. (2014). Chair of session on evaluator histories. American Evaluation Association conference, Denver CO.
We’re looking forward to November and the Evaluation 2015 annual conference all this week with our colleagues in the Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG). 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 contribute to aea365? Review the contribution guidelines and send your draft post to firstname.lastname@example.org.