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Evaluation 2013 Presidential Strand Theme

Evaluation Practice in the Early 21st Century

In the 1990’s, many of us wrote predictions or prescriptions for what evaluation practice should be in the 21st century – its methods, models, and approaches. In 2013, I would like us to use our evaluation skills to reflect upon evaluation practice today. My theme for this year’s conference will call upon you to think about, talk about, hear about, and write about this issue.

Evaluation is not only a transdiscipline, but those of us in it come from many different disciplines and evaluate different types of programs in arenas as different as education and transportation. We serve quite different clients with different expectations for evaluation and different views about data and evidence. Further, many people conducting evaluations are not members of AEA, were not trained in evaluation, and may not even call themselves evaluators. But, we are all collecting information to help others make judgments about programs. I would like us to learn more about this “big tent” of evaluation. Bringing this knowledge – and these people – together will not only make us more inclusive, but can improve the overall quality of evaluation. Our members can learn from people in other disciplines who are conducting evaluations outside our borders and they can learn from us.

Some questions for you to consider:

  1. Who conducts evaluation today? How do evaluators from different disciplines and arenas define and approach evaluation?
  2. What types of evaluations do today’s evaluators perform? And where has practice contributed to advances in theories of evaluation?
  3. What methods do evaluators use? For example, what are promising practices in use of mixed methods?
  4. What difference does all this diversity in practitioners and their approaches make in the practice of evaluation?

In what ways has the more inclusive tent helped evaluation improve public and non-profit programs and their services to the public?

Some of these questions may require us to do different things than we normally do for our AEA presentations. Instead of thinking about our own evaluations, we may need to assess the work of other evaluators. If you’re in an organization, perhaps conduct some interviews and/or a content analysis of the evaluations of your agency, one of your funders, or another agency or funder quite different than your own to compare (soliciting a co-author from that agency, of course).  

By developing knowledge on what we actually do – and how it differs across disciplines, content areas, states and countries – we can learn about ways we might move beyond our current practice to incorporate innovative ideas and approaches. We can teach each other.

I am excited and honored to serve as President of the American Evaluation Association and invite you to respond to our call for proposals, and to join us in Washington DC to reflect upon both the present and the future of our joint endeavor.

Sincerely,

Jody

Jody Fitzpatrick
2013 President
American Evaluation Association