Do we have a problem?
My husband and I have a house in the Daintree Rainforest: a world heritage listed rainforest in northern Australia. It is glorious, sitting high on a hill overlooking the Coral Sea.
It is also, as I said, in a rainforest.
As the name might suggest, we get a lot of rain.
While some parts of Australia may have been on fire for much of this year, my home country’s northern regions often experience another climate-related challenge: rain. Lots and lots of rain.
Now for those of you who have never naively purchased a house on a hill in the rainforest, rain plus house on hill means slippage. Or, at the very least, the possibility of slippage. And, during a visit last November my husband and I saw what we thought might have been the beginnings of our house sliding down the hill.
We’re not experts in this sort of thing, so we hired a Geotech Engineer to assess our situation.
Our friendly Geotech Engineer travelled the long distance to our house, stayed a few hours, collected data, went away, and wrote a report.
My husband and I eagerly awaited the findings of his report desperate to know the answer to one very important question: do we have a problem?
Our engineer’s report looked very professional. On page 1 he detailed his methodology. On pages 2-20 he gave us meticulous descriptions of the house and its surrounds, along with a series of photos documenting our soil, rocks, trees, the road. He documented his professional qualifications.
We read his report…perhaps not meticulously, but thoroughly enough so we felt we understood the content. Nevertheless, we got to the end of the report and still had no idea about whether we actually have a problem.
The evaluation connection
One: this was enormously frustrating. As I read his report, I thought: our evaluation clients must be frustrated if they receive our reports and they don’t provide succinct answers to evaluation questions!
Two (and perhaps more relevant to evaluation), I thought this was a perfect real-world example of Jane Davidson’s answer to the question What makes evaluations useless? Having evaluation questions but never answering them!
In this scenario, I went to a professional with an evaluative question: is the structure of my house good or not? He went through something that was similar to an evaluative process: he collected data and analyzed them against (presumably) some form of professional standard.
…he gave me a purely descriptive report…
…with no evaluative conclusion…
…that left me none the wiser about whether I had a problem.
As a reader, I was entirely on my own (without the necessary technical expertise) to try and deduce whether I had a problem. I also couldn’t take any action based on the report because I still didn’t know if I had a problem!
As a client, I was annoyed!
Think of me and my house that is (maybe) falling down a hillside the next time you write an evaluation report. Make sure you have evaluation questions and answer those evaluative questions quickly, succinctly…before my house slides into the ocean.