Visionary Evaluation for a Sustainable, Equitable Future

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Visionary Evaluation for a Sustainable, Equitable Future

n 2014, let’s use relationships and systems thinking to connect evaluation to the premier challenge of our time—nurturing a diverse and interconnected world with enough for all for generations to come. Let’s envision evaluation as fundamental to a sustainable, equitable future. Let’s unleash the power of evaluation and the desire of both evaluators and evaluation users to impact the world in positive ways.

Interconnected and seemingly intractable challenges threaten lives, livelihoods, and cultures. The challenges are tied to the increase in the world’s population, which has nearly tripled since 1950 to over 7 billion. Societies produce more than ever but consume natural and renewable resources faster than they can be replenished. Gender, social, and economic disparities and inequities persist. Malnutrition and poverty press on nations and neighborhoods.

Yet our time is rich with new possibilities. At the intersection of economic, environmental, and equity issues, opportunities exist for re-envisioning evaluation and its contribution to a sustainable, equitable world. Unprecedented flows of information, ideas, and capital invigorate the worlds of business, philanthropy, non-profit, and government. Individually and collectively, people are creating new approaches to the equitable and renewable use of resources. At the same time, calls for transparency, accountability, and effectiveness reverberate around the globe; and evolving and divergent political and ideological perspectives heighten the stakes for evaluation and its role in society.

Evaluation needs your vision of sustainable and equitable living, systems thinking, and relationships. AEA’s Guiding Principles call on evaluators to care for the public good. What better time than now—with the need, the opportunities, and the desire—for us to attend to the public good through visionary evaluation? At the 2014 conference, we want to explore how visionary evaluation can attend to the public good by:

Understanding sustainable and equitable living. Help us know the many languages of sustainability and equity by contributing your understanding of the core issues, initiatives, and evolving forms.
How can evaluators and evaluation users sustain a program/initiative, its outcomes, its larger intended impact, its purpose, its direction, and/or its evaluation recommendations or processes? Does sustainability involve sustaining policy changes through continuous monitoring to ensure system-level shifts? Does it mean providing sustenance to those in need? How does the meaning change in different situations, cultures, and geographies?
How do different ways of thinking about sustainability interact with the different ways of thinking about equity? For example, evaluations engaged with equity may assess how well an initiative sustainably enhances the well-being of those least well served in a given situation. Equity evaluations may assess the fairness and reach of resource distribution or inclusiveness in priority-setting for limited resources, constructing interventions, and defining valued outcomes. Other evaluative equity questions may share an aspiration to engage and address the socio-political roots of ongoing inequities in societies around the globe.
In your experience, what does sustainable and equitable living mean? Share your learning and your questions with other evaluators and evaluation users.
Integrating systems thinking. Bring your insights to help us add a systems orientation to evaluation’s fundamental theory and practice. Through this lens, we will help each other critique evaluation’s boundaries and understand the complexity of its multiple perspectives, diversity, and relationships. Using a systems orientation can help detect influential patterns and trends over time and locations amidst the crowding noise of raw and big data.
For example, systems thinking involves seeing and understanding interconnections among elements that together create a coherence that produces a (desired or undesired) result. By contributing your understanding, you can help other evaluators and evaluation users see and understand patterns that extend beyond the perceived boundaries of their programs. Perhaps you can help others apply systems thinking to find points of influence within systems that are especially powerful in supporting sustained and equitable change in a desired direction.
Building relationships. Enhance evaluation’s theories and practices by connecting your experience with other spheres and sectors. Craft a conference proposal that creates or builds on your relationships with people from diverse disciplines, sectors, institutions, geographic regions, political perspectives, and cultural traditions.
We often miss the contribution of the wisdom of the world’s accumulating history because we focus on the immediacy of today. Can you join with others to bring a historical perspective to an issue, including native or indigenous views and solutions?
Evaluation based on AEA’s Guiding Principles encourages attention to the values of both the victims and beneficiaries of policies, programs and initiatives. Voices of the privileged and powerful often overshadow the wisdom and voices of vulnerable populations. Do you have insights into disparities in power relations?

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