Above the Arctic Circle in Search of Evaluation

lapland_forest_evalblogEarlier this year, I traveled to Helsinki to participate in the European Evaluation Society (EES) conference. It was fantastic…but more on that in future posts.

While in Finland, I traveled above the Arctic Circle to Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland.

rovaniemi_station_evalblogThis is the region where many Sami people live, reindeer are herded, and—so they claim—Santa Clause lives.

I thought…How could I pass up the chance to visit Santa Clause?  More importantly, how could I pass up the opportunity to interview Santa about evaluation?


Easily, you might respond.

First, you might find the image of Santa objectionable because of its secular, religious, commercial, and/or cultural connotations. But standing above the Arctic Circle, I must admit I had no interested in unpacking the semiotics of Santa—I was far more concerned with keeping warm.  (NOTE: I suggest visiting here and here if you want culturally complex places to start a full-on anthropological investigation.)


Second, you might not believe in Santa. While there is more documentary evidence for Santa than there is for Bigfoot, the evidence has something of a credibility problem.  But again, in the extreme cold, I was all too ready to believe, if only to gain access to the heated halls of Santa’s castle.


Third, you might assume that Santa would know little about evaluation.  That, it turns out, would be a misconception.  Take a look at this excerpt from the interview that I conducted (no joshing):

ME: Santa, how do you know if you and your elves are making the world a better place?

 SANTA: It is my opinion that this is something in which we all invest our little part. When we realize we can do this together, we realize we can do anything.

 ME: Tell me more.

 SANTA: Every year, we have millions and millions of children waiting for presents. Sometimes my young elves wonder—How is this possible?  How can we accomplish this huge work? When they realize they are not alone, that we are all working together, they understand the important role they play and that we can be successful.

 ME: I would assume that you have sophisticated methods to evaluate your success.

 SANTA: We do…but we have had hundreds of years of experience.

What does this tell us?

  • Santa is a proponent of contribution analysis—understanding how one effort among many helps to advance social change.
  • He holds a social mechanisms perspective—that there is an explainable process through which “micro-level” individual change (the self-efficacy of elves; children receiving presents) can be transformed into “macro-level” social change (an effective workforce; a better world).

I was impressed.  And a little confused. Why was Santa so thoughtful about evaluation?

While I waited for my return train to Helsinki, I went for a coffee at the café in the train station. Throughout the world, train station cafés are dismal affairs, reflecting the power of location over the virtues of quality. Yet this is what greeted me when I sat down:


An evaluation survey! Then it hit me. Santa was the product of a larger evaluation culture. An evaluation society.  So, like the train station café, he gathered data and used it to improve his work.

So I leave you with this new year wish—that in this respect we can all be a bit more Santa Clause.


Filed under Evaluation

6 responses to “Above the Arctic Circle in Search of Evaluation

  1. Thanks for, again, taking the time to figure out an engaging, fun and thought-provoking way to share your experiences and insights. Got my wheels spinning about how to ask good questions.

  2. An inspiring and fun to read post for the holiday season, thank you.

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