Working with and loving evaluation as much as I do, it was quite difficult to see it for what it really is. I've been engaged in a learning process that has evoked fear, uncertainty, a soupcon of discombobulation, and periods of time where I had to leave this work to pull myself together.
If evaluation isn't what the American Evaluation Association says it is...if it isn't what I've been doing and writing about for the past 10 years...if evaluation isn't just a process that clarifies outcomes, promotes continued learning, benefits stakeholders, and influences decisions and future actions then what the hell is it?
Brace yourself. Evaluation is also a tether that invades the host and informs the parasite of the hosts continued viability. It's parasitic nature is what's hidden and not talked about but I see it so I'm putting it on blast right here and right now.
Whether in business, nonprofits, NGOs, government or anyplace else where need drives the relationship and economics is the law of the land, evaluation lets me know whether or not I should discard this host for another.
As a social worker, nonprofit volunteer, and "evaluation evangelist", this was very difficult to see and admit, but in the chapter "Clean Up on Aisle Africa" in my book The Last Evaluation, I talk about why this is obviously evaluation's present role in the world. And this role is in direct alignment with the collective purpose of business and public organizations. Evaluation must carry out this role because it's following the dictates of an economic (the study of scarcity) mindset. Hierarchies, money, and markets are insidious in the human world. Every man for himself at the expense of the environment and other 'men' is our motto. The hierarchical nature of business and even nonprofit work feeds on whatever it can to continue.
Hierarchy is a form of organisation of complex systems that rely on or produce a strong differentiation in capacity (power and size) between the parts of the system. It is frequently observed within the natural living world as well as in social institutions. According to the authors, hierarchy results from random processes, follows an intentional design, or is the result of the organisation which ensures an optimal circulation of energy for information.--Hierarchy in Natural and Social Sciences, Editors: Pumain, Denise (Ed.)
I am not suggesting evaluation's role is wrong, I'm simply telling the whole truth about what it is. I have a Trello board filled to bursting with articles, journals and books (Evaluation Roots: An International Perspective was a great read) that eventually led me to this clearer picture. Among other professionals in the field, I even skyped with Professor Faine Cloete of the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. He was kind and gracious in our conversation and I learned of several evaluation models I was unaware of in addition to other wisdom and expertise he shared given all his years in the field.
Still, my investigation has led me to see what I see.
What I see is the possibility for evaluation to play a different role (not better, just different). If we want what we've been getting we can keep doing business as usual. If we want something different, we can do differently. This is where biomimicry entered my awareness.
Biomimicry is innovation inspired by nature. In a society accustomed to dominating or ‘improving’ nature, this respectful imitation is a radically new approach, a revolution really. Unlike the Industrial Revolution, the Biomimicry Revolution introduces an era based not on what we can extract from nature, but on what we can learn from her.-- Janine Benyus
Through a process inspired by biomimicry, I searched for the answer to the question, "What would nature do in this situation?".
How does nature evaluate? Well, it does and it doesn't.
I see evaluation as embedded in source, not as the tether aiding the parasite in its invasion of a host. Source is "a process or body by which energy or a particular component enters a system". Attributes of evaluation in this role are much different. For starters, evaluation is personal and independent of funding. It is a self-determined, open, continuous and transparent happening carried out by the source of the information. The evaluator's role is also different (of course) and akin to that of a coach or a scrum master.
This is a lot to process so I won't go into anymore detail at this time. It took me months to process this and I was open and willing to see evaluation differently. For someone invested in keeping evaluation as it is...I can imagine what you must be thinking.
But I'd rather know than imagine, so tell me your thoughts about the ideas you've read here and follow me on LinkedIn to stay updated on this new evaluation paradigm. Implications for organizations, programs, projects and training are turning out to be quite interesting.
Cheryl Abram, Author. Speaker. Leadership Jedi. Re-framing Consultant