Last week I spoke about thinking like an evaluator by identifying the evaluative questions that you face daily. They are endless…Yet, doing this is hard, like any new behavior. Remember when you first learned to ride a bicycle? You had to practice before you got your balance. You had to practice a lot. The same is true for identifying the evaluative questions you face daily.
So you practice, maybe. You try to think evaluatively. Something happens along the way; or perhaps you don’t even get to thinking about those evaluative questions. That something that interferes with thinking or doing is resistance. Resistance is a Freudian concept that means that you directly or indirectly refuse to change your behavior. You don’t look for evaluative questions. You don’t articulate the criteria for value. Resistance usually occurs with anxiety about a new and strange situation. A lot of folks are anxious about evaluation–they personalize the process. And unless it is personnel evaluation, it is never about you. It is all about the program and the participants in that program.
What is interesting (to me at least) is that there is resistance at many different levels–the evaluator, the participant, the stakeholder (which may include the other two levels as well). Resistance may be active or passive. Resistance may be overt or covert. I’ve often viewed resistance as a 2×2 diagram. The rows are active or passive; the columns are overt or covert. So combining labels, resistance can be active overt, active covert, passive overt, passive covert. Now I know this is an artificial and socially constructed idea and may be totally erroneous. This approach helps me to make sense out of what I see when I go to meetings to help a content team develop their program and try to introduce (or not) evaluation in the process. I imagine you have seen examples of these types of resistance–maybe you’ve even demonstrated them. If so, then you are in good company–most people have demonstrated all of these types of resistance.
I bring up the topic of resistance now for two reasons.
1) Because I’ve just started a 17-month long evaluation capacity building program with 38 participants. Some of those participants were there because they were told to be there, and let me know their feelings about participating–what kind of resistance could they demonstrate? Some of those participants are there because they are curious and want to know–what kind of resistance could that be? Some of the participants just sat there–what kind of resistance could that be? Some of the participants did anything else while sitting in the program–what kind of resistance could that be? and
2) Because I will be delivering a paper on resistance and evaluation at the annual American Evaluation Association meeting in November. This is helping me organize my thoughts.
I would welcome your thoughts on this complex topic.