Susan Kistler on TED Talks for Evaluators

My name is Susan Kistler. I am the Executive Director of the American Evaluation Association and I contribute each Saturday’s aea365 post.

Resource: Have you ever wanted to hear “riveting talks by remarkable people?” That is the tagline for TED Talks, brought to you by TED, a nonprofit dedicated to “ideas worth spreading.”  TED hosts conferences with some of the world’s best, and most provocative, speakers and then posts those speeches on the web for the world to see for free. Al Gore? Regular speaker. Bill Clinton?  Bill Gates? Jane Goodall? Amy Tan? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

So what does this have to do with evaluation? TED Talks can help you to think ‘out of the box,’ to explore the intersection of art and ideas, to ponder profound issues on which evaluation can have a mitigating effect, to examine our assumptions, and to refine and expand methodologies. Here are three that I have found particularly compelling and that I believe share ideas that can impact practice. Each is free via the link provided.

  • Hans Rosling, a Swedish professor of global health, is one of the most repeatedly invited speakers at TED. He has six presentations to date and is one of my favorites. Why? His talks on “The best stats you’ve ever seen,” “Let my dataset change your mindset” and “New insights on poverty” expanded my understanding not only of global health issues, but also regarding how we can convey data so that people will listen and care about what is being said.
  • Sheena Iyengar studies how people choose, examining the ways in which personal history, cultural norms, and contextual factors impact ‘free choice’ and even how the concept of free choice is culturally laden. Her TED talk prompted me to purchase her book, The Art of Choosing, and also think more deeply about how choice – and our assumptions about choice – influence evaluation.
  • Anna Deavere Smith is an actress, playwright, researcher and storyteller. In search of the American character, she interviews people from across the United States and performs excerpts from those interviews – in the interviewee’s own voice and using their words verbatim. Her commentary – on race, equity, justice, optimism – reflected in her TED talk, gains its gravitas and urgency from sharing the authentic voice of the words of stakeholders.

Hot Tip: I saved the best for last. Anna Deavere Smith is going to give the opening keynote at Evaluation 2010 this November in San Antonio where you can learn more from her and over 500 other speakers. Why? Because evaluation is an idea worth spreading.

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