The themes I noticed at #AES17 included quite a few disheartening ones: the powerlessness of evidence and knowledge (our fine evaluation products!) in the current socio-political environment; the constraints on evaluators imposed by commissioners (she/he who pays the piper, calls the tune); and policy making by twitter and other quick fixes rather than through the deep deliberations that evaluators hope to encourage.

Dugan Fraser, who gave the keynote address on the last day of AES17, painted perhaps the bleakest picture. However, he did bring a hopeful message that evaluation, if done better, could deepen democracy and support social justice aspirations, like inclusion. He challenged the evaluation community to pay more attention to evaluating their own practice, and to interrogate the logic where evaluators believe the evidence they produce leads to improved program performance and greater accountability. He also promoted deliberative democratic evaluation practice (House & Howe, 1999) that applies the principles of inclusion, dialogue and deliberation. Inclusion – where people are adequately supported in making their interests well understood, dialogue – to reveal the difference between real interests and perceived interests, and deliberation – taking enough time and care to draw the right conclusions, after a rational examination of preferences, values and tastes.

Dugan gave examples about where he sees this being done already, like in the work described by Jess Dart at the conference, where evaluators and program designers work closely together and listen deeply to inform good design. 

House, E., & Howe, K. (1999). Values in evaluation and social research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Malcolm Ramsay