Thursday 9th December 2021, 13:00 – 14:00 GMT
Presenter: Emily F. Gates, Assistant Professor of Evaluation in the Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment Department at Boston College.
What role should evaluation play in systems change and transformation? How must we rethink evaluation itself to adapt to this role? Emily Gates, assistant professor at Boston College, will share her thoughts on these questions grounded in theoretical scholarship and a case study. She draws on her work with Thomas Schwandt in their new book, Evaluating and Valuing in Social Research, to argue that the way we define evaluation needs to expand. Evaluating has conventionally been framed as an assessment of the value of a discrete intervention (i.e. policy, program) at a single point in time. Evaluating traditionally assumes relative clarity and agreement on the boundaries of an intervention, the underlying problem it addresses, and what constitutes success, such that the evaluation scope and methods focus primarily on evidence generation. For efforts to change systems amidst complexity, evaluating needs to expand to address boundary and value conflicts and support ongoing learning and adaptation. This calls for shifting evaluation from a determination of the value of an intervention to an ongoing process of co-developing the value of initiatives as they unfold in changing environments. To illustrate this shift, she will share a case study of evaluation within the Rippel Foundation’s ReThink Health initiative to change the systems that influence health and wellbeing in the U.S. The case provides support that these two ways of seeing evaluation are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary for leaders who simultaneously work on discrete interventions and ongoing initiatives. The case study is featured in the summer issue of New Directions for Evaluation focused on systems- and complexity-informed evaluation.
Emily F. Gates is an assistant professor of evaluation in the Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment department at Boston College. Her research focuses on the role of evaluation in addressing complex problems and changing systems. Driven by a democratic vision for evaluation, she advances evaluation theory, methods, and practice that use systems thinking and approaches, make values explicit, and center equity. Her work has been published in the American Journal of Evaluation, Evaluation and Program Planning, and Evaluation: The International Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice as well as handbooks of evaluation, systems thinking, and qualitative research. She teaches graduate courses in evaluation, mixed methods research, and theory of change and currently serves as co-chair of the Systems in Evaluation group within the American Evaluation Association. Prior to joining Boston College, Gates was an evaluation fellow at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a former teacher.
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