The Future of Evaluation is Bright: From AEA 2019 to CES 2020

About four weeks ago, I had the good fortune of attending the American Evaluation Association conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The theme of this year’s conference was “Paths to the future of evaluation” which was captured in a strong focus on equality, diversity and inclusion; innovative methodologies; and utilization-focused evaluation.

So, based on my experience at the conference, I have gazed into the crystal ball that shows what the future of evaluation might look like, and here is what I saw:

The future of evaluation includes everybody. This means taking a broad and thoughtful approach to defining the stakeholders of a program, and making meaningful steps to include them in the design and implementation of evaluation projects. It means making sure our profession is diverse, so that we can benefit from the lived experiences and expertise of all genders, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations, and abilities.

The future of evaluation combines new methods to collect and analyse qualitative and quantitative data. This could be enabled through creative mobilization of existing tech such as computer assisted qualitative data analysis (CAQDAS), text mining software, or flexible quantitative analysis software like R. It means that evaluators will have increasing tools to systematically assess the effectiveness of interventions using multiple methods, which will empower us to speak truth to power through evidence-based evaluation products.

The future of evaluation will not focus simply on checking boxes. Evaluators are now, more than ever, concerned with questions about how (and whether) their work is used. Presentations at AEA focused strongly on practical ways to implement a utilization focus in each step of their process: from scoping a project to designing data collection instruments, to presenting the data. Utilization focus is not a new idea, but a new generation of evaluators are taking foundational ideas and actioning them in exciting new ways.

This glimpse into the future has left me hungry for more. I am looking forward to continuing the conversation about the future of evaluation at the Canadian Evaluation Society’s annual conference in June, 2020. I know that this years’ theme “Evaluation use: achieving our potential?” will provide an opportunity for Canadian evaluators to articulate and share our vision of the future of high-impact evaluation work.

Allysa Olding, CES Member