There were two stand-out presentations for me at the #aes17CBR, which concludes in Canberra today. On reflection I’ve realised a large part of why these resonated with me has to do with the values of our business, Clear Horizon Consulting, which aspires to work with people and organisations to create a better, more socially just and sustainable world. Specifically, this includes environmental sustainability and Indigenous reconciliation, along with social justice more broadly.

Andy Rowe’s key note on ‘Evaluation for the Anthropocene’ provided a compelling argument for why the field of evaluation needs to be ‘sustainability-ready’ if it is to stay relevant. I won’t go into the details as my colleague Byron Pakula has already written about it, except to say that sustainability-ready evaluation involves addressing the interconnectedness of human and environmental systems through ‘connected’ evaluation design that isn’t bound by sectors, program silos and partitioned evaluation approaches. Andy’s presentation got me excited about the tangible ways in which Clear Horizon could extend the way in which we live our value of environmental sustainability.

The other standout for me was Lauren Siegmann’s presentation on her experience, as a non-Indigenous external evaluation consultant, of evaluating Indigenous programs in collaboration with an Indigenous program team in a large non-Indigenous community organisation. The presentation got off to an emotional start when Lauren read a statement from her Indigenous partner Sissy, explaining why she couldn’t be at the presentation. Sissy explained in her statement that as an Aboriginal woman she had been struggling with the ways she feels oppressed and silenced in our society, and whilst she wanted to be there she just didn’t have the strength at the moment but that she had faith in Lauren to do a great presentation.

Lauren then proceeded to amuse the audience by exclaiming that we’d just have to take her word for it that they DID have an excellent relationship! Lauren outlined her focus on the emotional and relational aspects of the conduct of evaluation and how this created a safe emotional and cultural space between her and the program team; how the relationships she managed to establish improved engagement with the Indigenous evaluation participants and subsequent enabled high-quality data collection; and how the cultural, emotional and relational (never mind technical!) expertise of the evaluation team as a whole led to improved development of recommendations and utilisation of findings.

Of course, Lauren brought her usual self-deprecating style to the presentation, which turns out to be key to her successful relationships with Indigenous people - as Lauren aptly noted, it means she is considered to be “not a dickhead”. This is good advice for anyone establishing a relationship with program teams for the purposes of evaluation, regardless of context, and pretty well sums up a core behavioural value we hold dear at Clear Horizon – which is that we bring our authentic selves to our work with clients; no bluster or bullshit. The best bit for me personally is that we will have the absolute pleasure of welcoming Lauren to the Clear Horizon team in early 2018 – we can’t wait Lauren!

Lee-Anne Molony