Friday, 4 November 2016

AEA Evaluation 2016 – The birth of An Evalucreator

Who doesn’t love conferences? New cities to explore, people to meet and information to inspire.

Inspired I was - inspired enough to start this blog. It was odd really. I’ve never felt the need to write. I’ve never blogged or journaled. I can barely muster up enough insight to Tweet. But somehow an evaluation conference (of all things) sparked a creative impulse in me.

This sudden urge to express myself reminded me of my favorite and one of the most watched TED talks - “Your Elusive Creative Genius”. In that talk Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) recalls a conversation she had with a poet named Ruth Stone about the creative process. Ruth described the creative process as feeling like a thunderous train that she’d have to “run like hell and chase” otherwise it would barrel past her to another poet. I didn’t exactly run out of the session I was listening to when I heard my thunderous train coming, but I hurried pretty frantically to the Marriot lobby to start typing my ideas for this blog. Given I was struck so unexpectantly by this creative impulse I thought what better first blog than one about creativity?

What on earth do creativity and evaluation have in common you ask? Had you asked me prior to my thunderous train barreling at me I probably would have said very little; to me evaluation was where I exercised my left brain not my right. The thing is, as I scoured the hundreds of different sessions at the AEA Evaluation 2016 conference, I kept flagging sessions that focused on storytelling, effective design, creative engagement methods (aka the fluffy sessions). I was skipping past sessions about feasibility (no thanks), impact (maybe later), cost-effectiveness (nope), and doing so with both a sense of guilt and self-doubt. What kind of Evaluator chooses fluff over feasibility designs? Does it make me a bad Evaluator to say I’d rather get stuck in an elevator with Trump than go to those sessions?

I’m sure many would argue yes, but the truth is this. The only way me, or you, or anyone else is going to be a successful Evaluator is to figure out what makes you a great Evaluator, embrace it, focus on it, and flaunt it just like MQP flaunts those rad sweaters. I’m at my best as an Evaluator when I’m putting my creativity to work, when I….

…. can plan a theory of change session and think of interesting ways to stimulate conversation around what my clients are trying to achieve;

….. can’t wait to start looking at data and thinking of ways to present it so my clients are as excited as I am to learn something new about their work;

…. look like a proud parent when my clients understand their results and actually use the information to be better

That is when I create value. That is when I am not just an Evaluator, but An Evalucreator.