Reflections on the AEA 2019 annual conference: Paths to the Future of Evaluation

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In November, Carrie Fisher and I attended the American Evaluation Association’s annual conference, which was themed “Paths to the Future of Evaluation”. Carrie and I gave several presentations about ICH’s work and attended a wide range of sessions about evaluation approaches and methods. My days were packed, and I came back inspired, energized, and full of ideas. Here is a small sampling of some of the things I learned about:

  • I attended a talk about conducting focus groups with hard-to-reach populations, which emphasized that “hard to reach” should be reframed as “hard for us to reach”. As researchers and evaluators, if we want people to participate in something like a focus group, it is our job to make that as accessible, safe, convenient, and easy as possible.
  • I learned about an interesting evaluation that took an investigative journalism approach to qualitative data collection. With this project, the evaluators identified “leads” or emergent stories that were coming out in their early interviews, and then followed this thread for subsequent interviews. This approach was more open-ended than a typical interview project in which the interviewees and areas of inquiry are defined up front.
  • I participated in a full day workshop and many discussions about how we can promote equity in our work as evaluators. The conference this year challenged participants to think deeply about “evaluation in service of equity” – in other words, confronting racism and placing equity front and center when we think about the purpose of evaluation. As the Equitable Evaluation Initiative puts it, “What might be possible if evaluation was conceptualized, implemented, and utilized in a manner that promotes equity?” At the conference, I spent time reflecting on what I can do differently in my evaluation practice, and am continuing to do so along with the rest of the staff here at ICH. There are no easy answers here, but we are starting to ask questions and have conversations about what we can do to move the needle on equity.

As we move into 2020, I am excited to apply everything I learned, and help define the path to the future of evaluation here at ICH. I hope we keep finding ways to do our work better and make progress toward our vision of “A world in which empowered and knowledgeable communities achieve health equity and a high quality of life for all.”

Ranjani Paradise, PhD

Assistant Director of Evaluation/Research and Evaluation Scientist