Plenary Sessions

The 2021 Plenary sessions will feature in-depth presentations that focus on this year’s theme: AEA at 35: Meeting the Moment. Take a look at what to expect from these sessions, and stay tuned for more details to come!

Opening Plenary Session

Tuesday, November 9 | 10:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. ET

Presented by: 

Aimee White.jpg   
Tom Grayson
AEA President
Veronica Olazabal
AEA President-Elect
Frank Waln
Lakota performer, speaker, and writer

About This Session:

Frank Waln or Oyate Teca Obmani (“walks with the young nation”), from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Rosebud, South Dakota, is a Sicangu Lakota rapper, songwriter, and activist.  He will be telling his story of growing up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, and on self-empowerment and expression of truth, shedding light on Indigenous history and decolonization. He will talk about today’s reality of Indigenous People not being heard and often being stereotyped. He will address how we might ethically move forward recognizing issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity in our work as evaluators.

About Frank Waln:

Frank Waln is an award-winning Lakota performer, speaker, and writer from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. As a Gates Millennium Scholar, Frank Waln earned a BA in Audio Arts and Acoustics from Columbia College Chicago. As an Indigenous artist and speaker, Frank Waln fuses traditional Lakota story telling with Hip Hop and Native flute music to create presentations that shed light on Indigenous history and decolonization. As a performer and speaker Frank Waln has presented his work at colleges, universities, and museums all around the world including Harvard University, the Field Museum, Duke University’s Nasher Museum and the Linden Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.

Frank Waln has won numerous awards for his work including three Native American Music Awards, the Center for American Indian Enterprise and Development’s 40 Under 40 Award and the Chicago Mayor’s Award for Civic Engagement. Frank Waln has written for numerous publications including for The Guardian, The School Library Journal and Indian Country Today. He was a contributing author on America Ferrera’s New York Times Best Selling book American Like Me. Frank Waln travels the world sharing performances and presentations that utilize practices rooted in Lakota teachings that are older than America itself.


Looking Back to Look Forward

Wednesday, November 10 | 10:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. ET

Presented by: 

Debra Rog, Karen Kirkhart, Mel Mark, Rodney Hopson

This year’s conference theme urges us to reflect upon our history, through different voices and different times, to guide us in today’s context and tomorrow’s future. A panel of past presidents, each from a different seven-year cohort, will share brief reflections on their presidential theme, how it informs the moment we are in, including progress that has been made and work that is still needed to be done. Themes to be highlighted include evaluation and politics, evaluation and social justice, the consequences of evaluation, and evaluation in complex ecologies. The chair, a fifth past president, will set the context for the session, drawing on her conference theme, context, and evaluation.  The discussant, this year’s president, will offer insights into what we can learn from these past moments of time for the one we are in now.


Closing Keynote Session

Thursday, November 11 | 3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. ET

Presented by: 

Aisha Rios, Vidhya Shanker

About This Session:

Our ethical and spiritual responsibilities involve reflecting on how evaluation perpetuates injustice. Harm is inevitable, because our field was founded in whiteness through settler colonialism, neoliberal racial capitalism, and imperial expansion. These forces uphold the constructed supremacy of whiteness (Smith, 2006). Evaluation reinforces this construction when it values individualism over collectivism/interconnectedness, profit over people, and urgency over care. As abolitionists, we work toward abolishing the carceral state (punitive systems of control, surveillance, policing, detention, imprisonment, and deportation) and toward “abolishing whiteness” (Ignatiev, 1995). Abolitionism involves acknowledging/strengthening interdependence and intersubjectivity—inherent within many relational ethical and spiritual traditions (e.g., Ubuntu, Buddhism)—to unlearn binaries and understand how we each contribute to/benefit from oppressive systems. This plenary creates space/time/community to envision and practice an abolitionist future—being in caring/just/right relation with one another—today.

About Aisha Rios and Vidhya Shanker:

Dr. Aisha Rios and Dr. Vidhya Shanker met in 2015 at the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute, where they connected around their shared passion for challenging dominant evaluation narratives and practices; their abolitionist politics; and their formative experiences theorizing and organizing against state violence. In her current role as the founder of Coactive Change, Dr. Rios partners with change agents working to dismantle systems of oppression and co-create more just, liberatory futures. What this looks like in practice is slower paced, reflective, and contextually grounded learning and evaluation. She relies on approaches and methodologies that center collective knowledge and collaboration—rather than solely relying on her experience—because she believes that learning and change does not happen in isolation but in partnership with organizers for change.

Dr. Shanker began organizing in middle school and has remained at the periphery of movement organizing for the last several decades. She has been using systems concepts, the arts, and critical paradigms to interrogate, identify, and articulate the processes that reinforce—and disrupt—oppressive power dynamics in, through, and around evaluation and the industries that use its services and results. She has simultaneously been working to nurture an invisible but long-standing critical, liberatory, and abolitionist tradition within evaluation, including building the field's understanding of difference, intersectionality, and its own history of exclusion and erasure. Over the last year, she has enjoyed co-laboring with Dr. Rios and others committed to re-inventing an evaluation that allows all involved to live out these principles.

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