Paths to the Future of Evaluation: Contribution, Leadership, Renewal

In an era of discord and mistrust, where facts are heavily debated through ideological lenses and where people have difficulty finding common ground, the role of evaluation is to provide trusted, credible, evidence-based, and balanced conclusions about the quality, importance and value of what is relevant in our society. For example, we have witnessed steps backward with the questioning of science, leading to the March for Science but we have also seen progress and steps forward with the recent adoption of the bipartisan legislation on evidence-informed policy making by the U.S. Congress. Meanwhile, the international evaluation community has advanced towards a global evaluation agenda focused on building strong national evaluation systems, and incorporating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in its methods and practice. Thus, some evidence-based frontiers have emerged in the post-truth era.

This is an invitation for conversations among all AEA members—evaluators, evaluation users, instructors and students of evaluation, evaluation scholars and thought leaders—on the evaluation profession’s path forward. Building the future of the evaluation practice begins with an assessment and appreciation of the past and present contribution of evaluation to society and a consideration of the current societal issues and where we need to bring leadership. We then look ahead to see how we can evolve for the renewal of our profession, carving a path to the future of evaluation. These three elements exemplify an appreciative framework and follow the Appreciative Inquiry model – by identifying times where we have been at our best, we are able to learn about our strengths, gain confidence, and build momentum to imagine and create the best paths to the future.

We, as a profession, aspire to bring calm competence, reflect and learn through experience, and strive for excellent evaluations that inform individuals about the effectiveness and efficiency of important public and private programs. Our role as evaluators is to increase our society’s capacity, both international and national, to make better decisions based on credible evidence.

AEA President Tessie Catsambas invites you to address the following types of questions in our conference this year:

  1. What frameworks, experiences, methods and practices best prepare us to address key issues of our time—massive migration (and the economic and social challenges that accompany it), climate change disasters, epidemic threats, and shifts in resources through economic globalization. In what way do our evaluations help our stakeholders understand the impact of these issues locally, in every evaluation we undertake?

  2. How do we innovate and adapt our thinking, methods and practices to ensure our evaluations address the important societal challenges of today, and enable our communities to have informed and productive conversations?

  3. How do we ensure our evaluation practices “leave no one behind,” as promised by 150 countries committed to the SDGs – i.e., how do we promote equity, diversity and the protection of human rights for all involved and affected by our evaluations?

  4. How do we bring leadership competence to our evaluations? How do we prepare ourselves to be credible evaluators as we step into the controversial issues in our society or manage the anxiety our presence may stir? How do we stay independent and impartial, think calmly and creatively, act methodically and insightfully, consult all sides, include members of marginalized communities, and manage an evaluation that frames things systematically and provides credible answers to the most important questions?

 In the wise words of Gladys Hasty Caroll:

The past has been given to us. The future must be built, as others have built our past.