Andy Rowe here. I work collaboratively to design sustainability-ready evaluations that recognize how human and natural systems are inextricably coupled. Most evaluations focus on the human system and ignore the natural system, thereby contributing to the looming extinction. But human system interventions have direct effects on the natural system; ignoring these direct effects causes evaluation to have a systematic and positive bias.
To illustrate the dominance of human system focus of evaluation, a scan of the two publications of the AEA from 1998 to 2016 yielded an average of one article a year involving the natural system in AJE and NDE combined. By contrast, and more in line with our growing awareness of climate and sustainability challenges, sustainability science publications generally showed a 15-20% annual growth from 1997-2007.
How did we get here?
The social sciences and knowledges undergirding evaluation are infused with the concept of DOMINION of humans over all other species, including dominion of European-origin peoples over other humans. This contributes to why we do not value what we take from the natural system, or cost what we return to the natural system through our production and consumption, part of why I argue that evaluation has a systematic and positive bias. By contrast, worldviews that regard all as connected and equal make more sustainable production and consumption decisions, notably Indigenous peoples. Thus, potentially, Indigenous evaluation can lead us towards a sustainability-ready evaluation function so long as evaluators do not colonize it with dominion-infused concepts and methods.
A simple illustration: plastic
It is almost certain that any intervention you evaluate consumes plastic. The MacArthur Foundation estimates that by 2015 the weight of plastic in the oceans will exceed the weight of fish. An estimated million plastic bottles are sold every minute worldwide. These and other sources of plastic are ingested by marine and terrestrial species which find their way into our food. Evaluation should provide guidance on reducing plastics, just as we do for the range of human system effects that we currently include.
Clearly human system interventions affect the natural system, and the resulting changes we have induced in the natural system affect us. This should matter to evaluators since the populations most vulnerable to climate change and adverse environmental effects are populations that are an important focus of the human system interventions we evaluate. Our future will include more extreme weather, fire and water inundation; the homeless, elderly and infants, those marginalized by race and gender will have greatest difficulty adapting to these ever more frequent and severe events.
Evaluators have both individual and professional responsibilities on climate and sustainability. We need sustainability-ready evaluation designs that consider how interventions affect both natural and human systems interactively.
- In theories of change map human and natural systems interconnections.
- Facilitate consideration of how to incorporate sustainability into the evaluation.
Sobering thought: Evaluation that is not sustainability-ready is, itself, not sustainable when we fail to address the major issues of our times.
- Read the summary of the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) synthesis for policymakers https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-spm.pdf
- Just released – Fourth National Climate Assessment Volume II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/
See how you can reduce your personal impact: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/04/30/dining/climate-change-food-eating-habits.html
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Memorial Week in Evaluation. The contributions this week are about the concept of extinctions — those long past, recent, imminent, and foreshadowed. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.