Evaluating in uncertain times

It’s obvious that we’re living and working in a challenging time. We used to talk about working in the context of complexity, uncertainty and rapid change. Right now, we’re living in a world in which the rules are changing daily—and sometimes hourly—and many of us are confronting uncertainties about our health, working lives and livelihoods, our family and community connections.

We are physically distant from each other, right at the time when we most need to be connected. We are grappling with new ways of engaging, so that isolation doesn’t become isolating, with the associated impacts on mental health. Having lived with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, I’m always conscious of mental health, but probably never so much as now.

In this context, I’m finding it helpful to take a breath, to momentarily pause all the notifications and news updates, and remember what gives me hope. In that spirit, I’d like to share my hopes for what #evaluation can bring in these times.

One of these things is the evaluation community and the willingness of its members to reach out to strangers, make connections and share ideas and lessons. Over the weekend, Carolyn Camman and Brian Hoessler of Eval Café, held the space for a virtual check in for #evaluators from around the globe. Together, we shared our concerns and hopes for evaluation during uncertain times. The conversation was recorded and released as a special episode of their podcast. It was a means of connecting while apart and highlighted that while we might be working to process our own emotions and are concerned for those around us, we can still find ways to move forward.

Evaluators are adept at understanding context. We practice being aware of what’s going on around a program or strategy, so that we can make sensible decisions about how to respond. We can stand alongside our clients, providing them with a thoughtful perspective on what’s changing—and what’s not—and how they might best respond.

I’m hopeful because of the way I see our clients responding. They are finding ways to deliver vital services to vulnerable people in new ways, drawing on the vast experiences of their workforce in innovative ways. They’re also working really hard to keep the communities they serve informed and connected.

Our ARTD team is also cause for hope. I am writing this alone at the desk in my home office. But I’ve spent the day reflecting and connecting with members of our team too. The team are living into ARTD’s values. They’re collaborating with clients, coming up with pragmatic solutions to continue evaluations, suggesting ways of appropriately and meaningfully engaging using online methods. They’re curious about what might work and being creative with their thinking and planning around practical restrictions on travel and meetings. They’re using their critical thinking skills to understand how the current context will impact on the initiatives we’re evaluating, the people we’re working with and their clients. And it’s very obvious that the team is committed to finding a way through and being there to support each other and our clients.

It gives me hope to know we are all in this together, and we are all doing our best. And, I am hopeful, that on the other side of this, we will emerge as stronger people and evaluators.

We know this is a difficult time for many. If you would like support, you may want to call lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636…

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