What a refreshing talk (call to arms?) from Andy, particularly at 4pm on Day 2 of such a thought-inspiring conference!  Andy has thrown down the gauntlet to all of us to make sure that we remain relevant.  And Jess Dart, who convened the keynote, also taught us how to say Anthropocene, the human dynasty that is currently taking over the world and is severely affecting the geological timeline of environmental impacts.

Fortunately, Andy has helped us navigate through this complex space.  He has provided three specific recommendations that we, as evaluators and participants in the worlds future, can all take on board.

One: Embrace and learn to work in dynamic coupled systems of the human and natural world

The human systems work on short timelines, and in narrow areas. Meanwhile, the natural system works on much longer timelines, and cut across many different matters.  We have no data that connects these two systems.  Some of evaluation methods will be extremely difficult to deploy in these dynamic coupled systems.  We need new evaluation methods to be able to help us better understand the impacts on both human and natural systems.

Two: Use appropriate metrics and don’t get stuck into the detail.

Andy gave an excellent example of how a basic metric (like the number of feet you can see in the river) can be a very useful and easy metric to use for environmental health.  He reminds us “an approximate answer to the right question is worth a good deal more than the exact answer to an approximate problem” (by Tukey).  Perhaps we shouldn’t over complicate things, a habit of our profession.

Three: Remove the fear and distrust of what we don’t know.

Finally, Andy reminds us of all the challenges, but we should not see them as barriers.  We must embrace the difficult and complex world of coupled natural and human systems, and bring them into our evaluations.  Even if it is as simple as scoping out the evaluand a bit broader and including some basic environmental questions into what may seem a non-environmental program, policy or project. 

… I walked away inspired and perhaps a wee-bit scared.  Like all good keynotes, we are scared into ACTION!  But we must also be inspired to try something a wee bit different too.  And Andy has nailed that in his talk.  “Collectively the human society has domain over all the resources, and the power for change”.


Byron Pakula