Evaluation, Power, and Presentations: AEA 2018
November 9, 2018
The 2018 conference for the American Evaluation Association was held last week in Cleveland, Ohio. Lead researchers Rupu Gupta, who heads up our Biosphere pillar, and Rebecca Norlander, who guides our Culture pillar, jointly presented on how NewKnowledge pursues meaningful evaluation by building partners’ evaluative capacity through constructivist and culturally responsive methods. They explored our think tank’s approach and tools, along with several current initiatives that exemplify social impact evaluation principles. They also invited participants to help shape the discussion through an interactive demonstration centering on the theme of the conference, Speaking Truth to Power. Instead of a lecture-style format – which can tend to be hierarchical, exclusive, and elitist in nature – Gupta and Norlander actively involved attendees while offering concrete examples of how we take our work from theory to action. This approach ensured that everyone had a chance to contribute and reflect on how their own work leads to social impact.
Later that day, Gupta led another presentation on how NewKnowledge’s evaluation work supports social change. She showcased three studies that show how evaluators can play a role in reducing social and environmental inequalities, particularly in community resilience initiatives. This work highlights the unique meanings and understandings of concepts such as resilience and community – words that are often taken for granted. Gupta discussed the role of power in terms of an organization’s resources and reputation, acknowledging that resilience partnerships are typically initiated by established, high profile institutions like universities and informal learning centers. She also explored the value of being flexible and realistic about measuring change, especially in the short-term. As many know, relationship building with community organizations is a long-term process, and understanding the markers of trust are paramount to understand lasting change in communities.
Audiences in both sessions spoke up with thoughtful reflections on their own work about inclusive practices and collaboration. We were thrilled to see how we as evaluators can be a part of speaking truth to power.