I was talking with a colleague about evaluation capacity building (see last week’s post) and the question was raised about thinking like an evaluator. Got me thinking about the socialization of professions and what has to happen to build a critical mass of like minded people.
Certainly, preparatory programs in academia conducted by experts, people who have worked in the field a long time–or at least longer than you starts the process. Professional development helps–you know, attending meetings where evaluators meet (like the upcoming AEA conference, U. S. regional affiliates [there are many and they have conferences and meetings, too], and international organizations [increasing in number–which also host conferences and professional development sessions]–let me know if you want to know more about these opportunities). Reading new and timely literature on evaluation provides insights into the language. AND looking at the evaluative questions in everyday activities. Questions such as: What criteria? What standards? Which values? What worth? Which decisions?
The socialization of evaluators happens because people who are interested in being evaluators look for the evaluation questions in everything they do. Sometimes, looking for the evaluative question is easy and second nature–like choosing a can of corn at the grocery store; sometimes it is hard and demands collaboration–like deciding on the effectiveness of an educational program.
My recommendation is start with easy things–corn, chocolate chip cookies, wine, tomatoes; move to harder things with more variables–what to wear when and where, or whether to include one group or another . The choices you make will all depend upon what criteria is set, what standards have been agreed upon, and what value you place on the outcome or what decision you make.
The socialization process is like a puzzle, something that takes a while to complete, something that is different for everyone, yet ultimately the same. The socialization is not unlike evaluation…pieces fitting together–criteria, standards, values, decisions. Asking the evaluative questions is an ongoing fluid process…it will become second nature with practice.