Take 2: Evaluation Tango

Last week, I shared a little about how my understanding of evaluation has evolved. I’m still Spring green when it comes to evaluation, but the more I learn the more excited I am at the potential for growth and impact. If you’ve ever feared the dreaded post-test or quantitative analysis, I hope these reflections can help you muster the enthusiasm to take on a spreadsheet (and maybe the world).

I used to think of the SAAM campaign process in three primary phases: plan, implement, evaluate.  Step one, get to planning. Step two, make it happen. Step three, how’d we do? The more I learn about evaluation I realize these stages are actually much more fluid rather than a linear journey.

For instance, effective evaluation is something you are thinking about during the planning stage of a campaign. Evaluation can help us to shape our vision, and our vision and goals inform what we measure. Once we’ve measured these efforts, evaluation can feed into planning. As far as I’m concerned, these moves are more of a cycle or dance than a straight line.

When we think of evaluation as a dance, it acknowledges the life, breath, and movement of the measuring process. What we learn as we go directs our next steps. This idea reflects a process where evaluation is integrated early-on and is considered through-out. There is a tension that exists between planning and flexibility that could easily trip us up, but if we embrace this dynamic we are more aware of each step. This awareness can help us settle into a rthym and fine tune our moves in this dance. We can ask questions, reflect, process and change. 

Yes, there are infinite tweaks, changes, challenges. The balance of the tango is approaching evaluation with our vision or goals in sight. Does every project, publication, or event need to meet all of everyone’s needs? No, because this is unrealistic. A campaign does not need to be perfect to be effective.

Now, back to our tango. Let’s imagine that our goals and vision are the background music of our evaluation dance. We may not catch every beat, but if we listen the rhythm guides us. A dance is about expression, and like our work it isn’t about being right, wrong, good or bad. It’s just capturing where we are on our journey for a particular moment. My evaluation zen is the idea that learning some new moves starts with being present to the dance. This means welcoming every stub, stumble and moment of flight. Tango on.