Yesterday was the 236th anniversary of the US independence from England (and George III, in his infinite wisdom, is said to have said nothing important happened…right…oh, all right, how WOULD he have known anything had happened several thousand miles away?). And yes, I saw fireworks. More importantly, though, I thought a lot about what does independence mean? And then, because I’m posting here, what does independence mean for evaluation and evaluators?
In thinking about independence, I am reminded about intercultural communication and the contrast between individualism and collectivism. To make this distinction clear, think “I- centered” vs. “We-centered”. Think western Europe, US vs. Asia, Japan. To me, individualism is reflective of independence and collectivism is reflective of networks, systems if you will. When we talk about independence, the words “freedom” and “separate” and “unattached” are bandied about and that certainly applies to the anniversary celebrated yesterday. Yet, when I contrast it with collectivism and think of the words that are often used in that context (“interdependence”, “group”, “collaboration”), I become aware of other concepts.
Like, what is missing when we are independent? What have we lost being independent? What are we avoiding by being independent? Think “Little Red Hen”. And conversely, what have we gained by being collective, by collaborating, by connecting? Think “Spock and Good of the Many”.
There is in AEA a topical interest group of “Independent Consulting”. This TIG is home to those evaluators who function outside of an institution and who have made their own organization; who work independently, on contract. In their mission statement, they pro port to “Foster a community of independent evaluators…” So by being separate, are they missing community and need to foster that aspect? They insist that they are “…great at networking”, which doesn’t sound very independent; it sounds almost collective. A small example, and probably not the best.
I think about the way the western world is today; other than your children and/or spouse/significant other are you connected to a community? a network? a group? not just in membership (like at church or club); really connected (like in extended family–whether of the heart or of the blood)? Although the Independent Consulting TIG says they are great at networking and some even work in groups, are they connected? (Social media doesn’t count.) Is the “I” identity a product of being independent? It certainly is a characteristic of individualism. Can you measure the value, merit, worth of the work you do by the level of independence you possess? Do internal evaluators garner all the benefits of being connected. (As an internal evaluator, I’m pretty independent, even though there is a critical mass of evaluators where I work.)
Although being an independent evaluator has its benefits–less bias, different perspective (do I dare say, more objective?), is the distance created, the competition for position, the risk taking worth the lack of relational harmony that can accompany relationships? Is the US better off as its own country? I’d say probably. My musings only…what do you think?