Evaluation Across Boundaries—Literally and Metaphorically


Cross-posted at the Canadian Evaluation Society Conference website.


A few weeks ago, the New York Times reported that the United States Department of Homeland Security was in the midst of an evaluation failure. Since 2010, the Department has been struggling to develop a measure of border security that would help Congress evaluate and improve immigration policies. Senior officials reported to Congress that the Department “had not completed the new measurements and were not likely to in coming months.” This could delay comprehensive immigration reform legislation, which would have vast political, legal, economic, and social consequences.

The State of Modern Evaluation Practice

This is a cautionary tale of the state of modern evaluation practice. It represents a situation in which stakeholders believe that evaluation can improve social change efforts—immigration policies that almost all stakeholders consider flawed—yet evaluation has not. The reasons are complex, touching on long-discussed themes of use, politics, stakeholder inclusion, and methods. However, an important consequence has not been widely discussed—whether in the face of evaluation failure stakeholders will continue to believe that evaluation can improve society for the better.

A Shared Belief

If there is one thing that holds evaluators together as a community it is our shared belief that our work matters. This is more than a belief in the importance of evaluation use. It is a belief about impact. Our impact. We are willing to believe in the impact of our work in the absence of evidence. Should we expect others to do the same? We should not. Nor should we stop believing. We should respond by adapting our practice in ways that are more likely to achieve impact and demonstrate that we have. I call this the new practice of evaluation, and it is emerging in exciting ways in unexpected places.

Shaping Evaluation for the Future

When I give my keynote at the Canadian Evaluation Society Conference (June 9-12), I will be discussing the new practice of evaluation. The conference theme is Evaluation Across Boundaries, a metaphorical hook that is literally what the new practice of evaluation is advancing—evaluators crossing boundaries to become change makers, program designers, and market engineers. I will describe:

  • how this new practice is taking form
  • how it is disrupting evaluation practice today, and
  • how it may shape evaluation practice in the future.

These are principally undirected efforts. Should we—collectively as a profession and individually as practitioners—attempt to influence them? If so how? To what end?

Be Part of the Discussion

I cannot claim to have the answers to these questions. But I want you to be a part of the discussion. Join us in Toronto, let your voice be heard, and help define what evaluation practice will be.

What, Where & When

My keynote address “The New Practice of Evaluation: Crossing Boundaries, Creating Change” on Wednesday June 12, 2013 at 8.30 am, directly following the Thematic Breakfast.

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Filed under Conference Blog, Evaluation, Program Evaluation

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