Following my own Advice

Here’s how I did following my own advice for navigating the spectacle of ASAE in Nashville last week.

 

Nashville showed us a great time!

Nashville showed us a great time!

1. Take time for silence and be mindful. Grade: C

On the positive side, I noticed the wonderful music and thoroughly enjoyed the delicious food and drink of Nashville.  Staying fully present in each session allowed me to experience ASAE in a new way.  It’s amazing what you can notice when you’re paying attention.  The C is because I did not accomplish my full 20-30 minutes of meditation each day. I managed only about 10 in my room and occasional snippets throughout the day. The biggest challenge was the sheer discombobulation of traveling and having to look fully professional before leaving my room.  Getting to sessions early was a nice way to find pockets of peace, even if only for a minute or two.

2. Use what comes naturally to help engage with others.  Grade: B+

Meaningful conversations started before I even got to the airport.  I shared a cab with a young woman from Seoul, South Korea, participating in the Bowdoin International Music Festival and visiting Maine for the first time. She’s a pianist and loved our verdant scenery and fresh air. We talked about classical music, following a passion and tea.  She ate 10 lobster rolls during her visit and says she’ll never think of lobster the same way again. I’d probably feel the same way about kim chi after visiting Seoul.

Asking people how they came to work in association management was a wonderful conversation starter and got straight to interesting stories.  Many people fall into association management and stay. The breadth of educational and professional backgrounds at the meeting was incredible- talk about interdisciplinary! And, every day I met someone else who works at a distance from their official place of employment.  How encouraging!

3. Reflect on what you see and hear. Grade: I (Incomplete)

I did a fair bit of reflecting on what I learned each day while I was at the conference.   The afternoon I got home was taken up by a nap. I was understandably exhausted from being up at 3am for 5:30am departure from Nashville.  Posts about what I learned are in development and I’ve done some research to answer questions that popped up during the week. I have at least 3 new posts based on different facets of the meeting.

4. Take fewer pictures and use the ones you take. Grade: B+

I took only 56 pictures at ASAE and used two of them in the previous post. One I tweeted to a friend during the meeting and I will use the other good ones.  The downside of taking fewer pictures was that  I missed some shots inside the conference center. I didn’t have my phone out as much and forgot.   It’s OK.  I noticed and appreciated the art while I was there and can remember without the photos.

5. Do mini-missions.  Grade: A-

I’m working on an entire post about my adventures in mini-missions. This turned out to be a fun way to focus on the parts of the conference that were meaningful to me.  I had fun following the event on Twitter and engaging with new colleagues that way.  I won’t tweet during a learning session because that, for me, is against suggestion #1 (be mindful and present).   I found authenticity everywhere, from the music permeating the streets, to the the woman caring for the rest room, to presenters and award winners.

6.  Do things just because they make you happy. Grade: A

I did visit Canada (well, the Canadians) and it did make me happy. I also visited the beer garden.  It made me happy to say “no” to some things like forcing myself to find a new session when the one I wanted was over full.  The Green Bay Packers were in town for a pre-season game and were staying at my hotel.  Had I not been up at 4:45 am that day, I would have stayed up to see them come back from the game, no question.  Instead, I called it a night.  It made me happy to say, “Go Pack, go!” to the Packer gear-wearing people I saw in Nashville during my visit, though. Getting a silly picture taken with my colleagues on the expo floor made us all happy.  The hamburger hat was my personal favorite.  We also went to Husk for dinner.  Happiness all around, even in the pouring rain.

Tootsies Orchid Lounge

Tootsies Orchid Lounge

I would also amend this advice for the next trip.

Do some things just because it makes someone else happy.

My colleague and her friend are big country music fans.  It was fun to see them enjoying the music and simply being in Nashville.  We had a drink in the famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Sunday and they got me out on the floor to “learn” line dancing during the closing celebration at the Wildhorse Saloon.  I wouldn’t have done these things on my own and it was fun.

All in all, I did pretty well.  We’ll see if I can improve at the next conference.

 

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Six ways to be more intentional and have more fun at a conference

Have you ever come home from a conference exhausted and wondering what the heck just happened?

This happens to me, especially at large conferences like the American Society of Association Executives annual meeting and expo.  ASAE is large (5,000 people here, I think) and has more going on than one simple person like me can follow. I am a dust bunny and it’s Spring Cleaning.  The glitz factor alone fills me with awe. The meeting in Los Angeles  was book ended by private concerts with Melissa Etheridge and Cyndy Lauper.    Country music is not my thing, so I can’t be as enthusiastic about the big name musicians here this year.  My country loving colleague says they’re amazing.  The speakers are top-notch too.  We’re hearing from Adam Grant, professor at Penn’s Wharton School about his book, “Give and Take” for the opening session. I’m chuffed!  ( I picked up a few of British expressions living in Canada.  I love this word and will not give it up.)

ASAE 2014 Annual Meeting

ASAE 2014 Annual Meeting

There is a certain echelon for whom all this would not be entirely unusual. To me, it is another universe. I prefer to sparkle quietly, and in a small group.   These are the strategies I’ve developed  for giving my best and having a great time at this big, bold, bodacious meeting.

1. Take time for silence and be mindful.

My meditation and mindfulness practices help keep me grounded and bring me back when I get swept away. Every meeting has spaces  away from the swirling energy of the crowd. Find them and use them during breaks, even if it’s only 5 minutes.  You can also practice mindfulness by simply noticing what you eat, how it tastes, and how it smells.  It’s a good way to avoid overeating and proves especially useful when trying to find the appetizer line in a crowded hallway like we had last night.

2. Use what comes naturally to help engage with others.

My intentions for this conference are to deepen my connection to my colleagues, to collect and share useful nuggets of information, and to have more meaningful conversations, even if it means having fewer of them.  My evaluator question-asking skills can help here.   “Where do you work?” can beecome “What’s the most rewarding part of your work?” Job titles reveal nothing.  Stories get to what matters.

3. Reflect on what you see and hear.

Too often conference wisdom stays in our notebooks. This year I’m writing an abstract about each session and sharing it with my colleagues. I’ll post the best stuff here and tell you why I think it matters.

4. Take fewer pictures and use the ones you take.

Snapping pictures takes me out of the moment and I usually do nothing with the photos. This year, if I’m taking pictures I intend to use them. Here’s a picture of the delicious Goo Goo Cluster the fine folks from Nashville had waiting for us at the airport.  Chewy, chocolate perfection!

Nashville treat, the Goo Goo cluster.  Yum yum!

Nashville treat, the Goo Goo cluster. Yum yum!

5. Do mini-missions.

What’s a mini-mission?  It’s a small, fun, self-imposed activity that you think will improve the conference experience for you or someone else.  This year I’m stretching  how I use social media.  Not just tweeting and snapping pictures but trying to add value.   I’m also on the lookout for  expressions of authenticity to balance the high production factor of the meeting.  Last, I’m hunting for pithy phrases and quotes.

6. Do a few things for no other reason than you know they will make you happy.

I’m going to visit Canada  in Nashville!  Why? Because Canada and Canadians make me happy, like heart filled with joy, can I please come home with you happy.  Business Events Canada is in booth 1517. Visit them. They’ll make you happy too. If my recommendation is not enough, they have a beer garden.

How do you bring your best to conferences?

Evaluation Resistance Dudes

We talk a lot about resistance in the field evaluation.  “Evaluation has so much to offer. Why do organizations, funders, participants,  and leaders resist our efforts?”

People resist evaluation for the same reason we resist exercise, meditation, and eating our Brussel spouts*. We fear change.

Even “good for us” change, especially “good for us” change, is scary.  Often, we can’t do anything about the “bad for us”change. That’s going to show up when we least expect it. So, we resist the “good for us” change and other scary things we think we may be able to influence.

We want to be content and avoid discomfort.  Anything that moves us out of our cozy space, whether we perceive the force as “good” or “bad”, will be met with resistance. This is part of human nature. Resistance exists for a reason. In The Power of Habit, Charles Dhuigg writes, “Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often.”  Evaluation, if it’s not already a habit, makes us work.

Steven Pressfield writes about Resistance in The War of Art.  Pressfield says,

“The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it”.

That’s true for me. Resistance showed up in full force when I started this blog.  Why? Because as surely as I felt this was important, I feared…um…evaluation/criticism/success/ etc.  I recognized this and figured I should do something about it. Here’s what I did.

I personified Resistance and came up with the idea of Evaluation Resistance Dudes (ERDs).  Brene’ Brown calls hers “gremlins”.  You may call yours Fred, or Maurice, if you like.  ERDs are equal opportunity visitors in evaluative settings.  Doesn’t matter if you’re a Very Impressive Evaluator, a student taking a test, or a Senior Leader of an Important Organization. ERDs will come.

The Anatomy of the Evaluation Resistance Dude (ERD)

The Anatomy of the Evaluation Resistance Dude (ERD)

You’re laughing or at least grinning about that dude, right?  Maybe you’re laughing at me because I totally made this guy up.  I sure did. I painted him,  cut out that hat and crocheted his little arms and legs myself.   I made him orange because I don’t care for orange. Here’s a secret: resistance only has the power we give it!  We create our own ERDs all the time, often without knowing it.  If you run across someone exhibiting ERD behavior, approach with caution and gentleness.

We can play with  Pressfield’s wording and come up with a statement that is true for many organizations.

The more important a call or action is to our organization’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Evaluation, especially evaluation done with the express intent to foster learning or organizational change is going to flame the fires of resistance.  Most of us aren’t taught how to express, let alone handle, this discomfort in our lives, and certainly not in our workplaces.  Evaluators are (at least in theory and best practice) tipped off to expect Resistance in professional settings and  have tools to help. That doesn’t mean it’s easy.

I agree with much of what Pressfield has to say about Resistance and overcoming it, and I recommend reading The War of Art. It’s one to keep and share. We differ on one key point, however.  Pressfield views Resistance as an evil, invisible, enemy force that is out to get us.  It can certainly feel that way.  Through my meditation practice, I’ve come to understand Resistance differently.

The purpose of Resistance is not to destroy, but to protect.

Resistance isn’t out to keep anyone from living a fully realized life or becoming a stronger, more adaptive and thriving organization. Resistance is not trying to undermine your evaluation work, exercise regime or creative project.  Resistance wants to protect us from hurt, fear, vulnerability, embarrassment, and failure and success and love and change and growth. Resistance wants status quo, cozy comfort.

The equally insidious flip side of the Evaluation Resistance Dude is the Ego Reveling Dude (also, ERD).  They look like this:

Don't let that smiley face fool you, this guy is dangerous!

Don’t let that smiley face fool you, this guy is dangerous!

 

Ego Reveling Dudes have the same purpose as Evaluation Resistance Dudes.  They want to keep us safe, happy, and feeling a good about ourselves.  If you identify as a curmudgeon, the Ego Reveling Dude wants to keep you that way. We THINK we want to live with these guys all the time. We don’t. They’re dangerous. Well meaning, but dangerous.  These guys are in control when we’re taking ourselves too seriously, believing our own hype, and thinking we’re indestructible, impermeable, and infallible.  We’re not. Sorry. No one is.

What’s to be done?

Well, you could sketch, paint, and crochet your ERDs as a contemplative exercise. This is not unlike the evaluation ice breaker where we ask participants to shout out words they associate with evaluation. In some settings, crafting images of evaluation could be a fun way to help people loosen their hold on Resistance. It wouldn’t work in my evaluation setting  or I’d try it.

Realizing that Resistance is only as powerful as we make it is a good first step.   That’s what the ERD crafting exercise is all about.  Pressfield and Duhigg have great, (and different) advice to help us cultivate new, more adaptive and expansive habits- whether you want to relate differently to exercise, Brussel sprouts, art,  or evaluation.

Understanding the true nature of Resistance helps.  Recognizing Resistance when it shows up can be challenging.  This takes practice, training, discipline….building a habit of noticing.  Which will probably bring up more Resistance. We must not be discouraged. Anything worth doing requires practice.

Evaluators could try applying some good ole objectivity to relating to both sides of the ERD.  We needn’t be too caught up in Evaluation Resistance or Ego Reveling.  A few deep breaths can help, so can silence, a walk in nature, reciting a mantra, anything to break the mind spinning, habitual pattern and give you space to respond with intention.

We can also cultivate one of my favorite words: equanimity. His Holiness the Dalai Lama says,

Equanimity is a state of mind where one relates to others in a way that is free of prejudice rooted in the afflictions of excessive attraction or aversion.

This sounds very much like objectivity, and it is.  Think of equanimity as the kinder, gentler cousin of objectivity.

As I thought about my own experience with both sides of the ERD, I decided to make one more physical reminder of the essentially imaginary nature of ERDs and related critters.  This guy is cute enough I might keep it in my pocket.

Self-created substance surrounding nothing.

Self-created substance surrounding nothing.

 

 

Resistance Takeaways

  1. We create our own Resistance  and have the power un-create it.

  2. Approach your own and others’ Resistance with gentleness and equanimity.

  3. Use humor (if not openly, then privately).

  4. Connect to and align your intention with a deeper purpose (your project, your art, your values).

 This post is the first in a recurring series of “Watercolor Wednesday” posts where I’ll use watercolor paintings (and other artistic expression) to explore evaluation themes.

* Yes, I am an evaluator, a meditator,  and a fan of Brusssel sprouts.

How do you recognize your own Resistance or the Resistance of others?    What would your ERDs look like?  What helps you relate more constructively to Resistance?

 

 

 

Social work, evaluation, and life (or What My MSW Taught me Part 1)

It’s Social Work TIG week over on the AEA365 Blog and I hope people have been reading.     I’m glad to see Kathy Bolland calling attention today to the common values held by both social workers and evaluators.   Those values are what drew me to these fields. What social workers and evaluators do is different, but there is a lot of overlap in why we do what we do.

I love social workers. Social workers are brave warriors for justice, compassion and positive change. They go places and help people most of us feel uncomfortable even thinking about. Social workers move towards others’ pain the way firefighters run into burning buildings- armed with training, experience, tools and hopefully an “I trust you with my life” backup team of colleagues.

Evaluation work is infused with emotion, too.  It has to be because we work with people.  Often, it feels to me like evaluation over-sciences the emotional nature of our work out of a commitment to objectivity.  When we use objectivity to distance ourselves from connecting with people in an authentic, deep, meaningful way, it is a disservice to ourselves, the profession and our clients.   We can be objective with the methods and data while being living, breathing, subjective human beings.  If we didn’t care about our work we probably would do something else.

I know a little something about social work because I earned my Master’s degree in social work mumbledyteen years ago from the University of Pennsylvania.  I have often felt conflicted about my social work credentials because I only worked in typical social work settings in graduate school.  So, I am not a “real” social worker. At the same time, I  occasionally don’t feel like a “real” evaluator, either. The most acclaimed evaluators have doctorates and that seems the necessary credential. An MBA is also OK, if you’re doing consulting work. Why there are not more MSWs working in nonprofit consulting firms is a question I’d very much appreciate having answered one day.  The subtle, unspoken message is that the MSW is “softer”, “squishy”, “less than”.

Let me tell you, there there is nothing “soft”, “squishy”, or “less than” about having a client come terrified into your office trying to hold it together when her son has just been accidentally shot playing with a gun, or answering questions from an HIV positive mom with two kids and a 4th grade education about how she is going to be work ready in 5 years. My entire training in social work was about having my heart broken open, sharing pain, and finding the personal strength to sit and be present and do my job. I learned to draw on theory to inform my practice in a room of people experiencing turmoil. Excellent training for real world evaluation (and probably management consulting, too).

I grew up a lot in my two years of graduate school.  Desire for growth was part of why I chose the program I did at the school I did. I wanted my world view challenged.  I wanted to be a bit scared. I wanted to put myself out there. Anyone who has taken a yoga class knows about the importance of stretching to your own limits (but not beyond), again and again and breathing through the discomfort. Social work training, for me, was like taking an advanced course in emotional yoga. Instead of stretching muscles, social work training was about stretching our hearts and minds.  Some days, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, our hearts were shattered.  We knew this was part of the deal and did it anyway.

Sometimes it amazes me that I purposely put myself through that experience.  There were times when it was all too much. I feel like I took what was, for me, the “easy” way out by focusing my second year on the comparatively comfortable world of social work research and evaluation.  And then I remember doing a lit review on outcomes for girls in juvenile delinquency settings and working on an evaluation of a state child welfare agency.  Data and numbers were not so easy then. Those were real kids with real scars, real tears and real dreams. Not the kind of data we worked with in stats class at all.  I didn’t let myself get swept away in the real tragedies behind the data, at least not during the day.  I drew inspiration and made sure my work was correct, valid, complete and the best it could be. I processed the reality of the data in my journal and through conversations with fellow students.

I don’t practice social work any more and probably never will.  However, I do try to practice what social work taught me. Maybe it’s that I’m getting older, or braver, but I find myself wanting to be closer to the problems of the world rather than further from them. I forgot for a while that letting my heart be broken by the suffering in the world also allows me to feel it’s joy.  Social work helped me learn that and I’ll be forever grateful.

Social work is not Quixotic windmill jousting. Don Quixote is one of my favorite heroes, the Impossible Dream one of my personal theme songs.  I listened to that song more times than I can count while I was at Penn. It kept me going;  it gave me hope.  It still gets me every time. On my bravest days I don’t even come close, but I deeply believe in that song’s message and those who aspire to it’s vision.

This is my quest, to follow that star …
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far …
To fight for the right, without question or pause …
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause …

Thanks, Social Work TIG,  for giving me an excuse to “out” myself as a former social worker and for talking about the valuable insights social work has for evaluators.  One week isn’t enough to cover it all.

Tomorrow I’ll share a few more lessons I learned from social work that may be useful to other evaluators.

What are you doing to help yourself learn?

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.)

Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

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.

What are you doing to help your clients learn?

One of the reasons I started this blog is because I am always finding neat evaluation-related content online that I can’t incorporate easily into my work.  I don’t have other evaluators around to discuss things with and I care too much for my colleagues to ask them to pretend to be excited about my online evaluation discoveries.

Recently, I found this post on the Education Week Leadership 360 blog by Jill Berkowitz and Ann Myers with the catchy headline, “Are we Learning from Evaluators?”.  K-12 evaluation is not my area of expertise so I am going to pull out  a few of their ideas, turn them into my own questions and try to make connections to general evaluation practice.

Berkowitz and Myers remind us that research shows focusing on what we do well is a more effective way to create improvement than emphasizing shortcomings.

How could evaluators use new science showing that criticizing someone makes it harder for them to change?

(I’ll do another post or two about Dan Goleman’s book, “Focus“, and its relevance to evaluation.)

Try taking a page from Appreciative Inquiry (AI).  Hallie Preskill and Tessie Tzavaras Catsambas have a great book to help evaluators get started.  After taking a few workshops with Hallie,  I added one AI item to a survey, asking respondents to reflect on an experience that was “especially engaging, exciting, or meaningful. Where did this happen? Who was there? What did you do that made the interaction so successful? What about this experience made it special?”  Not everyone provides great detail, but the descriptions help me and the program understand what is happening when people are having a positive experience.  These responses are stories that resonate with leaders.  Thanks to quantitative data, I can also explore who is not having these experiences and look for patterns. You can also structure evaluation reports in a way that uses what works to inform what is less successful.  There is usually some strength or capacity that can be drawn upon to create improvement.

Why are schools not “Learning Organizations”?

Even without operational definitions, on the face of it, it seems to make sense that schools would or could be learning organizations.   Peter Senge, in his classic book,  The Fifth Discipline says that,

“A learning organization is a place where people are continually discovering how to create their reality.  And how to change it.”

My quick easy answer to this is, “more schools are not learning organizations because being a learning organization is really hard”.  Truly answering the question would make an excellent doctoral dissertation if it hasn’t already been done. If you know of a dissertation on this, I’d love to know!

One of the five disciplines is personal mastery, described as “the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively”.  Sounds like a good practice for kids and adults to explore together in school. Definitely a good practice for evaluators.  To my reading, one of the calls The Fifth Discipline asks us to answer is how to integrate multiple ways of knowing in how we operate in the world.  Personal mastery is as much a way of being as it is an attitude. Mixed Methods Evaluation, anyone? How about Reflective Practice?  Lived experience matters, so does what the data say.  I think that holds whether you’re in a K-12 setting or treating cancer. Rather than play the game of knowledge supremacy perhaps we would be better served by a “both, and” approach. 

“How can we use discomfort among evaluators and those being evaluated to make us more skilled in how we give and receive feedback?

There are lots of instances where evaluators extol the virtues of our profession, and rightly so. We could also choose to embrace the discomfort  evaluation can cause and use that to connect with stakeholders.   Let’s be honest, evaluators, we feel just as much anxiety about receiving feedback as anyone else.  We could tap into our own discomfort and use that experience to create a shared connection with our clients.  I’m not saying you should reveal deep, dark, personal wounds while being the bearer of bad news.  However, I do think compassion and openness are in order.  We should prepare ourselves to give feedback. Keep this checklist in mind the next time you need to give feedback and see what happens.  I may do a post about it. It goes back to the idea of integrating ways of knowing and being in the world.  We can be logical, systematic, and rigorous evaluators while also being gentle, open, and sensitive.  I see no conflict there.  Actually, Barbara Fredrickson has a word for the ability to, “see holistically and integrate seemingly contradictory perspectives”.  She calls it WISDOM!

You asked a darn good question, ladies!  So, evaluators, what are you doing to help clients learn?

Entering the Evalusphere

I promised to share some of what brought me to this blog and have since realized completely fulfilling that pledge is a process that will emerge over time rather than an item I can address in a single post.

I’m still really slow with this whole blog post writing thing.  My internal editor is far too critical for my own good thanks to years of academic training and professional writing.  While I was writing this post my colleague and evaluation blogging trailblazer, Chris Lysy posted “4 reasons to have a blog, even if you don’t blog”.  With the humor and insight I appreciate so much from Chris, he elucidated some of my reasons for this blog better than I was going to.   Truthfully, my original post was going to pay homage to Ann, Susan, Chris, and Sheila who shared their blogging experience at the American Evaluation Association conference in October 2013 (slides here).   I’m going to do that in a different way by including them in my take the “4 reasons to have a blog post”.

The reasons to blog are compelling and I like the four Chris gives.  However, with every motivational reason, there can be an associated fear factor and it’s worth addressing those, too.  I love quotes, I’ll prescribe some “Quote Medicine” that might combat some of the resistance that is part of learning and opening oneself to evaluation.

(Digression: I first heard about “quote medicine” when learning SAS programming in the late 90s.  The instructor gave us a command comprised solely of punctuation that would get the program to run if we had unbalanced quotes in our program.  Part of the deal with Quote Medicine is you must vow to find and address the underlying problem once you get running.)

Motivational Reason 1: You have stage control

Fear-based Question: What if I screw this up?

I have the power, “MUAHAHAHAHAH!!!”  OK, maybe maniacal laughter is taking it bit too far. It is fun to have a platform that is mine, all mine (my own, my precious).  There’s a freedom in exploring ideas and putting things out there that are not polished and perfectly reasoned.    The associated fear factor is that I am solely responsible for this and the internet can be a harsh place. Peer review has nothing on the “interwebs” for the potential to crush a person’s creative spirit.   My dad would say, “The Lord hates a coward, He’s not too keen on stupid, either”.   Somewhere between brave coward and wise fool seems about right.

Quote Medicine:

 You can either fit in or stand out. Not both. Seth Godin (Linchpin)

Motivational Reason 2: Show your humanity

Fear-based Question 2:  Is my humanity showing?  How embarrassing!

My favorite blogs are authentic.  Sheila B. Robinson has an authentic, evaluation-focused blog called Evaluspheric Perspectives.  She’s professional, personable, and always real.  I have immense respect for that and am pleased to share the “evalushphere” with Sheila (who coined that very cool term).  The ability to put more of who I am out there in the world is compelling.  So often our work cuts us off from expressing the people we are the rest of the time.  That’s a tragedy.  The scary part is that revealing our humanity means beings vulnerable and, yes, judged.  The fear factor is compounded for people in professions connected to the scientific method like evaluation. The implicit message is that your humanity counts for a lot less than the letters after your name and the awards on your wall.

Quote Medicine

“If humanity is to survive – and not only that, to flourish- we must be brave enough to find our wisdom and let it shine”. Sakyong Mipham, The Shambhala Principle  (p. 21)

Motivational Reason 3:  Build a following and keep in touch

Fear-based Question 3:  Who would follow ME?  and What if no one follows?

I wholeheartedly agree with the keeping in touch part. The AEA365 blog, started by Susan Kistler and now curated by Sheila Robinson is great connecter.   I am an internal evaluator and a “virtual employee”.  My work team is located in California and our organization is headquartered in Washington, DC.  I don’t live within 500 miles of either of those places.  The internet allows me to keep in touch with everything and everyone I can imagine.   In his take on Reason 3, Chris says, “You have great things to offer, let me follow you.”  Time will tell whether what I have to offer is “great” (my metric for “great” is yet to be determined) and, to be honest, I’m still figuring out what the “things” are that I’ll offer.  As I’ve said, I don’t yet have a destination in mind for this journey. The possibility of Chris and other evaluators I respect as “followers” is a humbling and daunting thought. And that doesn’t even take into account the people I haven’t met yet.  How exciting!

Quote Medicine

“When we stop caring about what other people think, we lose our capacity for connection”. Brene Brown, Daring Greatly (p. 169)

Motivational Reason 4: Support your offline presentations

Fear-Based Question 4: What happens when people connect blogging me with working me?

This is not one of my reasons for blogging, but I appreciate that others do this.  The videos on Ann Emery’s blog are an example of how to do this well.  Every time I watch one of her videos, I learn something.   When I first read this reason, I solidly decided, “Not for me.” I’m rethinking that.   Truthfully, I’m a bit skittish about linking my “day job” with this blog too closely.  Next time I give a presentation, I’ll figure out how to share some of the concepts in a blog post and see what happens.

Just for the record, I wasn’t at all planning on revealing my blog to other blogging evaluators today. I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing and don’t have everything set up properly.  However,  Chris’s post inspired me.  Telling someone that what they do matters is important.  Showing someone that they matter in a way that means something to them is even better.  Isn’t that what we all want- to know what we do matters?

For anyone keeping track, add one to your tally of evaluation bloggers. I guess I’m here now.