Vision + Evaluation

Vision is about where you want to go, evaluation tells you if you are getting there. Without one, we leave the other lost.

The shift in the calendar from one year or decade to another provides a cultural transition place for renewal and looking forward. Vision — as we’ve covered before — is one the highest point of leverage we have in changing how people see — enVISION – what is possible. A vision that is shared by those we need to come with us is a powerful force for change.

A new vision and the mental models that come with it are what allow us to see new ideas — innovations — and spaces to implement them. This is a requirement for doing intentional systems change.

The other requirement is action.

Evaluation: Not Just Social Accounting

There is a phrase that I introduce to every client or teaching engagement I have when evaluation is involved:

Evaluation is the longest four-letter word in the English language

Cameron Norman – to anyone who’ll listen

Outside of professional evaluators — yes, that profession exists (and it’s a dynamic, big, and expanding field) — almost no one enjoys evaluation. Evaluation is too often done as something to us, rather than with us. It’s often about accounting — did we do something and to what degree — based on some standard that we may not have had a say in, be relevant or appropriate, or be useful to our work.

It can be done differently and can be the innovator’s secret advantage. It is so much more than accounting and is a means to create and facilitate change — i.e.: to innovate. Indeed, I argue it’s absolutely critical to innovation by making our intentions and vision real to the world. While it is a valuable part of the design and prototyping process, it is also the way in which we communicate to the world about what we produced and what it does – it’s effects.

Evaluation can also be part of the innovation itself when you take a design-driven approach to your work. It is a way of acknowledging that the journey to change itself is often as much an outcome as the goal and is a part of the innovation itself.

Evaluation is also a driver and facilitator of learning.

In all of these cases: evaluation is about documenting action (and providing the means to make intelligent, data-driven, insight-oriented decisions about what to act on next). Without evaluation, how do we know what happened? We don’t have the story of change or evidence that it happened at all.

Cultivating Trust

Evaluation is the means in which we cultivate trust through our work. Anyone can make a claim that something ‘works’ or has a ‘proven formula’, but is that actually so? Without evidence — good, quality, transparent evidence — we simply don’t know.

If we want to shape a vision for where we want to go and build the kind of services and products (and processes and organizations) that will help us get there, trust is essential to bring people along. By making your work visible through showing the logic and theory of change, telling the story of your innovation, showing the value of what you’re doing — even that which is hidden — and uncovering the layers of impact, you make change real.

This moves your ideas and our social world forward.

Visionary Evaluation

One final note about vision and evaluation. It’s hard not to look into the horizon and see challenges that the world faces that we all need to consider. Climate change is the most notable and shared challenge this planet faces. Recognizing that our actions and innovations are not just to help us thrive, but survive, a group of evaluators came together to shape what has become the concept of visionary evaluation.

Visionary evaluation was first put forth by Beverly Parsons, Lovely Dhillon and Matt Keene drawing on their experience leading the development of the 2014 American Evaluation Association conference in Denver, Colorado. The theme for that conference was visionary evaluation — linking the work of evaluation with a vision for a sustainable, more equitable world.

It is an approach to seeing problems, thinking about them, and working together to addressing them through the tools, methods, and models of evaluation. I’ll share more about this in a future post. In the meantime, check out the newly published book on this topic and look out for a forthcoming week of blog posts on the AEA365 blog in early February.

Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

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