Last week the aea365 blog reposted an intriguing challenge from John LaVelle at Claremont Graduate University. John asked us to develop our own personal statements about evaluation- what it is, how we do it, and what we draw upon to inform our work. Evaluation is dominated by theories of evaluation often linked to the work of marquis names. One of the ways I read John’s post was as an invitation for each of us to put our names on the marquis, even if only privately.
Carving out the space and time we need to reflect on our practice as evaluators is as important as anything else we do to be informed, skillful and effective professionals. There isn’t enough time for any of us to keep up with all the tools, ideas, techniques and developments in our field and the ones related to it. Having clarity around our own purpose can help us in our work. That’s good for us, good for the people we serve and good for the profession. We’re making the future of evaluation by how we practice today.
When I was in Claremont’s evaluation certificate program, nearly every assignment asked us to connect reading to our practice. That was easier than answering John’s dare. His challenge is more personal and requires a personal approach. Here are few ideas to help you develop your professional vision and integrate the world out there with your evaluative mind and heart. (Some of these ideas were inspired by a trip I took to the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum. I found a dark hallway with a collection of submissions about human rights from leaders around the world. It was beautiful and moving.)
Write down your personal vision of how you practice evaluation.
Evaluators usually do a lot of writing, so start with that if it feels easier. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Don’t filter, just write until the timer stops. Don’t go getting all academic about it. No citations! Don’t worry if you have incomplete sentences- just jot down words that come to mind. Put that away. Try it again a few days later. If you spent your first 10 minutes writing at a keyboard, try it this time with a pen and blank sheet of paper. No lines. Did you write differently depending on your writing tool? Revisit your answer periodically. Don’t be surprised if your ideas change over time. That’s evidence of professional development and growth.
Create a visual representation of what evaluation means to you.
OK, stay with me on this one; it’s not as hokey as it sounds. Pinterest is rocking the social media world. As evaluators, we know the importance of good visualizations, right? Create a board on Pinterest and name it something cryptic to disguise what your board is really about if you have to. When you find a picture, article, recipe, job description, organization, or idea that fits with your vision, pin it. You can do this with Evernote or a folder in your office, too. The point is to collect images and ideas you feel drawn to. Later, if you want, you can try making sense of it all. It doesn’t have to make sense. If you’re more hands-on, make an evaluation doodle, painting, sketch or cartoon.
Use “plane time” to read evaluation literature and write a response that connects to your practice.
Many evaluators travel for their work. Something about being on a plane and away from my usual routine clears and frees my mind. Use this time to delve into that pile of journal issues you’ve been meaning to read. Choose something outside your area of interest or expertise. Write a paragraph about the article or pull out a quote or two that sparked a reaction. If you’re all caught up on your journal reading (first, write a post to the aea365 blog telling the rest of us how you do that), then buy a magazine in the airport and see if you can find evaluation ideas and concepts in there. How does what you’ve found differ from the perspective you’d expect? What is similar?
Write a poem about evaluation.
Again, the point is for you to explore your practice in new ways. You don’t have to post it or share with anyone. If it feels weird to write a full-fledged poem, start with haiku. Haiku is three little lines: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. Still not for you? Well, then let’s go back to elementary school. Take each letter of the world “evaluation” and write a sentence that means something to you. Play.
Be a TIG-hopper.
Next time you’re at an AEA conference or other professional event, go to a session outside your usual haunts. Between attending events, explore posts on the aea365 blog, evalcentral or presentations in the AEA e-library. That topic you think is totally boring or know nothing about may have a wonderful perspective to offer. Or, you may have something to offer them. It’s possible this exercise will only confirm what you already think you know. That’s good, too. Now you have some data to back up your assumptions. Almost every time I try this, I learn something. You may find only a nugget or two, but can be enough. This may be another strategy best done with a time limit. We don’t want you falling down a rabbit hole, for too long.
These are all ideas for you to play with and explore. It’s not for your clients, your boss, your professors or your colleagues. I’ll do my own multi-modal evaluation exploration and see what seems fun to share. There may be bad haiku. I really love haiku.
Exploring our thoughts on how we view and practice our profession is part of an evaluated life.
You don’t have to share, but it would be fun if you did.