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Lessons Learned from AEA: Opening Keynote or Open Challenge?

12/18/2017

AEA President Kathy Newcomer’s keynote was an inspiring challenge to evaluators everywhere. After the performances of several local D.C. non-profits, residents, and artists, it seemed as if her speech would be of the positive, motivating type. Needless to say, she did not go that route. Instead, we began to hear about the top seven challenges facing evaluators today: there are too few incentives for learning, there is not enough awareness of evaluation as a field of practice, focus is typically on whether a program works and not on what works for who, there exists a blindness to bias and racism, etc. Motivational, right?

Newcomer’s opening put us evaluators in a dark place, but as a good leader does, she followed them with “glimmers of hope”, possibilities for how evaluators can use evidence to bring our communities and our field into the light. To name a few, Newcomer recommended bringing evaluative thinking to policy, program design, implementation, and evaluation; embracing new ideas but not replacing existing knowledge and skills; incorporating an equity lens; being inclusive and persistent in defining what makes success; and creating learning agendas and rewarding learning.

Evaluators are a hard group to push down, and I’m sure many saw this as an opportunity just as I did. A challenge. A challenge to never stop learning, never stop pushing boundaries, never stop teaching. Here at Via, I know that’s what we aim to do.

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