When people describe the qualities they want in an evaluation, many use words like ‘credible’, ‘robust’, and ‘objective’. On the face of it, this makes sense. The people who need (and want) evaluation are often hoping for hard and fast answers to big questions like: ‘does this work?’ or ‘what’s my impact?’
Yet during the closing session of the November 2019 American Evaluation Association conference in Minneapolis, evaluation great Jennifer Greene called for an evaluation approach that centers on two entirely different qualities: grace and compassion.
Jennifer Greene’s words (like they so often do) struck a chord, and the idea of leading evaluations with grace and compassion at their core has been milling about our collective CERE minds since the conference.
A graceful start to the new year
In our complex and often over-heated world (both figuratively and literally), we wanted to begin 2020 by reflecting on what evaluation practice might look like if it was grounded in these two qualities.
Here are our musings so far…
Grace (noun): elegance or beauty of form, manner, or motion; courteous goodwill.
We think a graceful evaluator might be one who uses elegant evaluation designs: an evaluator who uses clean, simple studies that get to the heart of the matter without extraneous—and time consuming—accessories.
Then again, perhaps the graceful evaluator is one who exudes goodwill to all she encounters? She is calm under fire when dealing with time-poor policy makers and frontline managers; she is generous with her time and courteous when working with those who take part in social programs.
Evaluating with compassion
Compassion (also noun): a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
Reading this dictionary definition, we wonder if the compassionate evaluator places the wellbeing of people at the heart of her evaluation practice—the wellbeing of both those who design and deliver social programs, as well as the communities who take part? If this is the case, the compassionate evaluator would also considers the consequences of her words and actions—evaluating the merit, worth and significance of her practice based on its capacity to enhance (or undermine) the wellbeing of those around her.
As we launch headfirst into 2020, we’d love to hear your thoughts on what evaluating with grace and compassion might look like…we will certainly be keeping Jennifer Greene’s words in our minds as we work with our community partners to strengthen their work.