Tuesday, June 1, 2021
“Everything on earth is being continuously transformed, because the earth is alive.”
(The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho, 1988)
AEA’s past 35 years have brought us to one of the most difficult moments the field of evaluation has faced. A global pandemic forced us to connect and work in a virtual reality. A global economic crisis has closed the doors of many clients. Some of the most compelling, difficult moments we face involve issues of racial justice, as well as the realities and accelerating threats of climate change. Just to name a few.
Our theme, AEA at 35: Meeting the Moment, is meant to encourage us to ask ourselves: what have we learned over the past 35 years? What is the direction of the evaluation field? What is the direction of AEA as an organization? Paraphrasing from Sister Monica Joan (from the PBS series, Call the Midwife), the past 35 years of AEA are not lost. We carry those years with us everywhere we practice evaluation. That is where we learned about our profession, where we made our mistakes, and where we hope to consign them. Our gift is knowing that the difficult moments will soon pass, and that the way we embrace difficulty has the power to change everything. Evaluators are change agents. We confront difficult moments by transforming the practice of evaluation.
Transformation requires us to get clear about our values and biases, to understand and adopt AEA’s guiding principles of evaluation. It requires us to become skilled in evaluative thinking as we confront complexity in today’s realities, to be competent in collecting, analyzing, and using reliable value-based and evidence-based data, to be capable in using innovative technology, and social networks, and to be adept at engaging multiple diverse stakeholders as we conduct evaluations. As evaluators, we must work to understand the complexity of ethical positions on social justice, human rights, diversity, equity, and inclusion. In a nutshell, in order to meet the moment, evaluation must be about rethinking our practice and making necessary changes.
Effective transformation requires evaluators not only to “network, coordinate, and cooperate, but also to collaborate” (Himmelman, A. T., 1992)—i.e., exchange information, alter activities, share resources, take risks, and enhance each other’s evaluation capacity for a common purpose: bettering humankind and planet earth.
Other avenues for transforming evaluation include:
Even as we transform evaluation, we cannot control outcomes. In Westley, Zimmerman & Patton’s book, Getting to Maybe, they express, “There is no road map for social innovation. …getting comfortable with acting in the face of uncertainty is part of being an [evaluator].”
All of us are colleagues in the practice of evaluation, and we will all benefit by questioning, encouraging, and supporting each other as we go about transforming evaluation.
I’ll end this article with a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Aimer ce n'est pas se regarder l'un l'autre, c'est regarder ensemble dans la même direction. Translated: “To love is not to look at each other, it is to look together in the same direction.”
To celebrate 35 years as an association, AEA is highlighting members that have made an impact within the association and industry. This month, AEA spoke with Beverly Parsons. Read about Parson’s background, involvement with AEA, and where she sees the association heading in the future.
Let’s start with where I am today: I’m here on a small peninsula on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples. I’m watching a freighter move across the calm waters, likely from the Seattle docks, headed to Asia. This beautiful physical location is inspiration both for my current writing project (about systems-oriented evaluation) and my engagement in local and state movements to support the Rights of Nature and protect forests from clearcutting and the associated practices that are so damaging to nature’s life cycles.
What motivated me to get here: love of inquiry, learning, diversity, change, systems thinking, justice, seeing the world, well-being of people, and the planet.
How I started in the field: While working as a research and teaching assistant in physiological chemistry in the University of Wisconsin Medical School, I learned about the PhD program in Educational Research, Evaluation, and Measurement at the University of Colorado-Boulder. I received a full scholarship and moved from my roots in rural Wisconsin to the field of evaluation. Over the past 50 years, I have worked in multiple sectors and disciplines worldwide, mostly in some type of evaluation role.
AEA didn’t exist when I completed by PhD in the mid 1970s, but some of the professors I worked with were involved in forming what later became AEA. I left the evaluation field for about 10 years in the 1980s-90s to work with governors and legislators on education policy and leadership at the Education Commission of the States (an interstate compact to which nearly all states in the U.S. belong). In the early 1990s, I returned to evaluation and started InSites with a colleague. I then discovered AEA and immediately joined. It has been my professional community ever since.
AEA has been my place to explore wide-ranging ideas related to evaluation and to meet fascinating people. Initially, it was through the annual conference and the TIGs. Over time, it became more through working on joint projects, being part of task forces, being on the AEA board and serving as president in 2014. Meeting and working with others in AEA who shared my fascination of the inquiry process—linked with values and systems thinking—has continually fed into the work that I’ve been doing over the years.
It has heavily influenced the writing I’ve done—including various articles, two professional books (Evaluative Inquiry: Using Evaluation to Promote Student Success and Visionary Evaluation for a Sustainable, Equitable Future), and even the children’s book I wrote with my niece and grandniece after my brother died following 25 years of having Parkinson’s disease (I Will Carry You). Evaluation and AEA have become woven into both my personal and professional life in ways that bring coherence to working and living in sync with my values. At this crucial time in history, those values are grounded in seeking the well-being of people and planet in whatever I do.
Robin Miller talked in a recent newsletter issue about the evolution of AEA over the years, so I’ll comment here on where I’d like to see the association head.
I come from the perspective that those of us alive today have the responsibility to address the ravaging nature of the economic/social systems that are consuming the life, spirit, and well-being of people and planet—all living beings. My vision for AEA is to be an instrument of fostering the metamorphosis of our systems’ destructive, consumptive patterns of organization to ones that build on a recognition of caring, sacredness, beauty, and the wisdom of nature and humanity.
Are you familiar with how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly? It’s through metamorphosis. A caterpillar (the larval stage of a butterfly) consumes huge amounts of the plant life around it, not realizing it is devastating its environment. It grows rapidly, molting its skin multiple times. Then, it moves to the chrysalis stage. It stops eating, hangs from a leaf or branch, and forms the protective chrysalis. Within the chrysalis, enzymes dissolve the structure and tissues of the caterpillar, but certain groups of cells—referred to by biologists as imaginal cells—survive. Having been dormant in the caterpillar, these cells now draw on the protein-rich soup of the dissolved caterpillar to develop the body parts and interconnections that become the adult butterfly. When the conditions are right, the butterfly appears through the bottom of the chrysalis, hangs for a while to be sure its wings are dry, and flies away.
I envision AEA as having within it the “imaginal cells” to contribute to the evolution of human societies living rightly and lightly on the earth. What stage is AEA at now? I’ll leave that for you to create.
Be an imaginal cell. Ground yourself in the AEA guiding principles, and if you want to take further flight, try out the Visionary Evaluative Principles:
AEA is excited to celebrate our 35th year as an association in 2021! Since our inception in 1986, we have strived to advance evaluation as a profession and provide a space for community amongst a diverse group of evaluators. AEA is standing tall after 35 years, even amid the second year of a global pandemic; we think that is worth commemorating.
We want you to join in the celebration! Send us a few sentences on what AEA means to you or your team by tagging us at @aeaweb on Twitter and Facebook, or on LinkedIn, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Take pictures using the AEA Zoom backgrounds (Option 1, Option 2, and Option 3) during committee, TIG, or your own team meetings and send them to us for a chance to be featured in an upcoming AEA Newsletter!
We look forward to seeing you celebrate our anniversary.
This year, AEA celebrates 35 years as an association! Last month, we asked you to test your knowledge of AEA. Find out how you did below:
1. When were AEA's guiding principles last updated?
2. Who is starting their first term on the AEA board?
3. Name the official journal of AEA.
From Nick Hart, AEA Evaluation Policy Task Force Chair
The following is a statement issued by the American Evaluation Association President in response to recent efforts to limit the independence of evaluation activities and offices in multiple states across the country: Evaluating government programs and services is an important strategy for improving efficiency and outcomes for the people government serves. In recent years, many states have opted to expand capacity in evaluation and evidence building, particularly with a focus on independence and increasing rigor. The American Evaluation Association recognizes the important role evaluation can play, and salutes the activities at the state level.
The American Evaluation Association’s “Evaluation Roadmap for a More Effective Government” provides a framework for federal, state, local, and tribal governments to consider in designing effective evaluation functions. In most cases, robust evaluation capacity in multiple branches of government is optimal for addressing the variety of policy-relevant questions that may emerge from elected officials and program managers. Among the principles recommended by the American Evaluation Association for governmental evaluation is independence, meaning the evaluation organization, unit, and staff must retain control of evaluation questions, design, methods, and findings. Evaluation activities can and should be independent even when political processes identify potential topics, establish budgets, and guide priorities.
Efforts to formalize evaluation practice across many states align with activities in the federal government to expand capacity for evidence-based policymaking. With the unanimous recommendations from the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking in 2017 and the enactment of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act; P.L. 115-435), evaluation capacity building and infrastructure has proceeded across the country on a recognized bipartisan and professional trajectory.
The members of the American Evaluation Association are available to support the establishment and growth of evaluation capacity in Executive Branch and Legislative Branch operations.
From Tessie Catsambas, AEA Past President and Board Secretary
Dear AEA Members,
We are grateful to members who brought to the attention of AEA staff and board the troublesome language around the issue of intellectual property; thank you to members who participated in the Townhall that helped clarify and resolve the issue. We respect everyone's right to speak out freely, and as a membership organization, we invite members to reach out to staff and board members directly, or speak through your TIG leaders, with an eye to collaborating and solving issues. We appreciate hearing from you, and getting help to keep improving how we do things as an association. We hope that members will make a phone call or send an email to board or staff when they have concerns or questions. We welcome feedback around any issue, any time.
We have heard member questions on how soon our recognition awards will be reinstated. While we wish it were this year, recognition awards will not be reinstated until 2022. An Awards Task Force is just coming together, and we are following and supporting this process actively.
In our May meeting, we reviewed our budget closely and appreciate the efforts of our staff to keep our budget balanced in spite of the reduced revenue without our annual conference.
We are excited to see the work behind our upcoming virtual conference, and grateful to our staff for improvements they have in store for us. Finally, ending on a note of celebration, we were pleased to find out that we have confirmed our in-person meeting in 2022. We’ll see you all in New Orleans!
Past President and Board Secretary
Members of AEA enjoy access to evaluation best practices, unmatched educational opportunities, and a global community of evaluation professionals. Make sure you're taking advantage of all AEA has to offer to advance your career.
Learn more about AEA member benefits here.
AEA members can receive a 20% discount off of select Oxford University Press social work and research method titles when they order through the website www.oup.com/academic using the discount code AEA20. We do have a number of new titles that your members may be interested in that I’ve outlined below—please feel free to share this information however you see fit whether on the website or in the newsletter or using social media. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
Clinical Assessment for Social Workers - Clinical Assessment for Social Workers provides a wide range of standardized assessment tools, derived from different perspectives, to give readers greater flexibility in information gathering and intervention planning. Incorporating both quantitative and qualitative methods, the authors encourage readers to approach assessment as both an art and a science. They advocate for discovering the balance between scientific, evidence-based approaches and the development of personal practice wisdom.
Practical Implementation in Social Work Practice - Practical Implementation in Social Work Practice is a helpful guide that showcases the benefits of Evidence-Based Practice (EBP), with an emphasis on the implementation of high-quality interventions. The book expands on the EBP process from the applied and practical lenses, beginning with an overview of the process of EBP and the relationship between EBP and implementation. Within the chapters, readers will find specialized insight, practical industry tips, and adaptable implementation frameworks and tools to use on their own.
If you are a publisher and would like to participate as an AEA publishing partner, or if you are an author of an evaluation-related text from an alternate publisher that you would like to see participate, please contact the AEA office at email@example.com.
AEA members can receive a 20% discount off Routledge when they order through the website using the discount code AEA20. Of particular interest to AEA members may be the books in the Comparative Policy Evaluation series (Ray C. Rist, Ed.), most recent title: Changing Bureaucracies: Adapting to Uncertainty, and How Evaluation Can Help – Burt Perrin and Tony Tyrrell Eds.).
You’ll hear it from just about anyone who is a member that the AEA Topical Interest Groups are the heart and soul of AEA. Each TIG is defined around a special topic or interest and creates a forum whereby the knowledge, experience, and skills of each member can become a resource that the entire community can leverage. Joining a TIG is an exclusive benefit to AEA membership and is your ticket to a community of experts who share similar backgrounds and work settings.
NEW! AEA members may now join as many TIGs as they wish (previously capped at five per member). Although there is no longer a limit of how many TIGs you may join, we recommend you limit your membership to five in order to maintain appropriate involvement. Joining a TIG is easy and can be managed here. Simply log in and join the TIGs that best suit your interests.
TIG members will receive updates from their TIG via email directly from the community discussion forums. To manage your email preferences and frequency login here, navigate to your profile (top right corner of the screen), and manage your community notifications under ‘My Account’.
Not sure if a particular TIG is the right fit for you? While selecting from 60 TIGs sounds like a lot, there are a few great ways to get your feet wet before hitting the join button. Check out a TIG's website to learn about their mission, purpose, and upcoming activities. Many TIGs use their sites to archive their newsletters, engage in rich discussion, and keep members in the know. You may also reach out directly to the dedicated volunteer TIG leaders via email. They’re happy to share more information and answer your questions. Lastly, you may contact AEA staff at firstname.lastname@example.org for guidance. Zachary, Damon, and Mike are more than happy to get you started in the right direction.
Through our TIGs you have access to a network of professionals for collaboration on ideas and practices and a well of invaluable knowledge on topic areas that may be of interest to you. Your participation is based on your availability, and there is no specific obligation associated with your TIG membership. Some TIGs are very active, with vibrant online discussion lists, resource websites, and special networking events, while others tend to focus their efforts around the AEA annual conference. Being active in a TIG allows you to increase your depth of knowledge in a specific area as well as pursue volunteer leadership opportunities.
The Digital Knowledge Hub is an online platform featuring professional development opportunities for evaluators, by evaluators. See eStudies available for purchase like the ones below.
In-depth eStudy courses offer a deep dive into top-of-mind evaluation themes and topics. Open to both members and nonmembers alike, eStudies provide a diverse learning experience where collaboration is encouraged.
eStudy 112: Create Your Own Data Visualization. A Practical Workshop
eStudy 113: Measurement and Evaluation for Sustainable and Responsible Impact Investment
eStudy 114: Collective Power: Using Participatory Leadership Facilitation in Evaluation Design
AEA's Summer Learning Series workshops have sold out! But don't worry: a new workshop has been added for July 1. Register now while seats are still available.
This workshop provides practicing evaluators with an opportunity to improve their understanding of how to use theory to improve evaluation practice. Lecture, exercises, and discussions will help attendees learn how to apply evaluation theories, social science theories, and stakeholder theories of change to improve the accuracy and usefulness of their evaluations. Presenters will share a range of examples from evaluation practice to illustrate main points and take-home messages.
Looking for a crash course in evaluation? Purchase the Introduction to Eval 101 on-demand course!
Created with the assistance of Tom Chapel, Chief Evaluation Officer for the CDC, Eval 101 provides an overview of the evaluation framework. This hands-on, self-paced eLearning course uses case studies and simulations to teach the step-by-step framework for program evaluation. The tools and insights learned from Eval 101 will empower you to use evaluative thinking effectively and make an immediate and practical impact on your evaluation practice.
As an AEA member, you have free access to our library of Coffee Breaks. These short, 20 minute webinars are great for sharing lessons with your students or other colleagues, while you are apart.
In this section, we spotlight events of interest to the AEA community, suggested by fellow members. Please note these events are not sponsored by AEA. If you would like to suggest an upcoming event, email Cady Stokes, AEA newsletter editor, at email@example.com.
July 6 - 23, 2021
10:00 am - 5:00 pm EST
TEI has delivered evaluation training to over 10,000 new and seasoned practitioners. The courses, led by experts in the field, provide rigorous training in skills related to the foundations of evaluation, collecting data, analyzing data, creating effective reports, developing logic models and theories of change, managing and implementing evaluations, and more. Participation in TEI courses builds towards our professional certificates in evaluation. Learn more about TEI at our website.
Register today for our July course offerings.
We offer early bird, multicourse, and group discounts.
To learn more about our July program and schedule, please visit our current program page. For further questions, please contact us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join our mailing list to get updates about all 2021 TEI programs.
AEA would like to recognize and thank some of its most longstanding members. Click here to view individuals who are celebrating 5+, 10+, 20+ and 30+ years with the association this month!
AEA would like to welcome those who have recently joined the association. Click here to view a list of AEA's newest members.