I’ve been going to this conference since 1981 when Bob Ingle decided that the Evaluation Research Society and Evaluation Network needed to pool its resources and have one conference, Evaluation ’81. I was a graduate student. That conference changed my life. This was my professional home. I loved going and being there. I was energized; excited; delighted by what I learned, saw, and did.
Reflecting back over the 30+ years and all that has happened has provided me with insights and new awarenesses. This year was a bittersweet experience for me, for may reasons–not the least of them being Susan Kistler’s resignation from her role as AEA Executive Director. I remember meeting Susan and her daughter Emily in Chicago when Susan was in graduate school and Emily was three. Susan has helped make AEA what it is today. I will miss seeing her at the annual meeting. Because she lives on the east coast, I will rarely see her in person, now. There are fewer and fewer long time colleagues and friends at this meeting. And even though a very wise woman said to me, “Make younger friends”. Making younger friends isn’t easy when you are an old person (aka OWG) like me and see these new folks only once a year.
I will probably continue going until my youngest daughter, now a junior in high school, finishes college. What I bring home is less this year than last; and less last year than the year before. It is the people, certainly. I also find that the content challenges me less and less. Not that the sessions are not interesting or well presented–they are. I’m just not excited; not energized when I get back to the office. To me a conference is a “good” conference (ever the evaluator) if I met three new people with whom I wanted to maintain contact; spent time with three long time friends/colleagues; and brought home three new ideas. This year, not three new people; yes three long time friends; only one new idea. 4/9. I was delighted to hear that the younger folks were closer to the 9/9. Maybe I’m jaded.
The professional development session I attended (From Metaphor to Model) provided me with a visual for conceptualizing a complex program I’ll be evaluating. The plenary I attended with Oren Hesterman from the Fair Food Network in Detroit demonstrated how evaluative tools and good questions support food sustainability. What I found interesting was that during the question/comment session following the plenary, all the questions/comments were about food sustainability, NOT evaluation, even though Ricardo Millett asked really targeted evaluative questions. Food sustainability seems to be a really important topic–talk about a complex messy system. I also attended a couple of other sessions that really stood out and some that didn’t. Is attending this meeting important, even in my jaded view? Yes. It is how evaluators grow and change; even when the change is not the goal. Yes. The only constant is change. AEA provides professional development, in it pre and post sesssions as well as plenary and concurrent sessions. Evaluators need that.