Building capacity for evaluation starts with democratising it

Evaluation needs to build capacity for “evaluative thinking” beyond its professional and academic borders and to communicate better. These were the key take outs from the 2017 Australasian Evaluation Society (AES) International Evaluation Conference for South Australian members.

Tension exists between the desire to ‘professionalise’ evaluation and the need to encourage managers to understand and engage with evaluation as part of their core business. We need to build capacity for evaluative thinking among policy makers and program managers so they can reap the benefits from design through implementation and refinement. This means that while evaluation needs a strong theoretical grounding, evaluators must distil ‘evaluation speak’ into plain, meaningful language for decision-makers.

In a post-truth world, where the currency of facts and rational argument has been devalued, we need communications strategies that connect emotionally with audiences and are tailored to their time constraints. Evaluators need to be storytellers and might benefit from using the pyramid principle of reporting. For example, Board Members and Senior Executives need high-level information to inform strategy. Program managers need information about program targets and budgets to inform tactical decisions. Frontline staff need more detailed data translated for practice. Reports can be layered to meet these needs.

To gain traction, evaluation also needs to become better at engaging people. Co-design principles and an Indigenous perspective on evaluation recognise that people are experts in their own experience and they have an important voice in designing and evaluating the services they use.

The gathering of South Australian AES members agreed it would be useful to develop a community of practice to help spread the word about the benefits of evaluative thinking in developing policies and programs that work for people. Social media might also help us broaden the dialogue about evaluation.

Looking forward to the next AES seminar…In the meantime, connect with us on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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