AES18 Day 1: How can we transform evaluation?

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September 2018

By David Wakelin

What does the future hold for evaluation and how can we scale up the value of our field to deliver global results? Does evaluation need to transform to evaluate transformations?

With the AES 2018 International Conference (AES18) kicking off this morning in Launceston, Michael Quinn Patton’s keynote set the tone for an engaging three days and challenged the audience to think about and discuss what a transformation of evaluation might look like.

In his presentation “Getting Real About Transformational Change: The Blue Marble Evaluation Perspective”, Patton gave us an insightful overview of the distinctions between different theories of change and the potential for a Theory of Transformation to provide a framework for understanding what influences systemic, large-scale transformations.

What are the challenges for transformation?

The results of evaluation today don't seem to jump off the page, showing transformations that have occurred. But are the results of programs so fantastic in every case that we have an eye-opening experience and the world around us has transformed? Maybe not. Instead, evaluation can present us with incremental progress on a small-scale that can be easily measured.

Further, transformations may be difficult to measure using current evaluation approaches. However, Patton noted that it should be easy to recognise transformation by how seismic and sustainable the transition is from what came before.

Patton also noted that adaptability and sustainability discussions in the years gone by have left us in need of more dramatic changes to achieve the results for our wonderful planet to continue in a manner that will provide for people today and generations to come.

Big data to the rescue?

Leveraging data on a grand scale can help us deliver a transformation where the whole is greater than the sum of the contributing parts. In talks this morning, we were exposed to some of the opportunities that can be generated from open data and big data sets and how to use these as evidence to inform decisions that affect millions of people.

The amount of data at our fingertips is enormous and ARTD Manager, Gerard Atkinson, highlighted the ease at which it can be collected from online resources. This came with the invaluable reminder that we have moral and ethical responsibilities to use this data legitimately and to consider our actions when using it as part of our work in evaluation.

When using big data, we can’t afford to lose the voices of people who are not often heard, but should to be involved in decisions about programs and services that affect their lives. Even when leveraging big data and predictive modelling, talking to people is a beneficial step in delivering the right results.

What’s next?

There is an opportunity to plant seeds here at AES18, to begin the expansion of evaluation from its current form to something that tackles systems transformations.

Tomorrow, we are looking forward to attending Penny Hagen’s Keynote address, Evaluative Rubrics with Kate McKegg and Nan Wehipeihana; and How algorithms shape our lives by Kristy Hornby. More on this tomorrow.