Monday, January 9, 2012

Perfect versus Interesting: Where should evaluation sit?

 I read a lot of different blogs as part of my personal and professional learning and last year began reading Seth Godin's blog. An entrepreneur, marketer, and author, he wrote the following in April 2011:

"There are two jobs available to most of us:

You can be the person or the organization that's perfect. The one that always ships on time, without typos, that delivers flawlessly and dots every i. You can be the hosting company or the doctor that might be boring, but is always right.

Or you can be the person or the organization that's interesting. The thing about being interesting, making a ruckus, creating remarkable products and being magnetic is that you only have to be that way once in a while. No one is expected to be interesting all the time.

When an interesting person is momentarily not-interesting, I wait patiently. When a perfect organization, the boring one that's constantly using its policies to dumb things down, is imperfect, I get annoyed. Because perfect has to be perfect all the time."

This post made me wonder where evaluation and evaluators fit?  Should evaluation/evaluators  be perfect or should it/we be interesting?

I would argue that good evaluation is perfect whereas better evaluation is interesting - and thus most likely imperfect some of the time. And that such imperfection is just the cost that comes when taking risks.

Let me try to explain: One example of a huge hit has been evaluators' forays into data visualization and reporting. Attendees at the American Evaluators Association meeting in 2011 could attend multiple sessions on using data visualization that were intended to improve client's understanding of,  interest in, and use of data and evaluation. The evaluators presenting these materials had all taken risks with their evaluations and clients to use new techniques to increase greater stakeholder buy-in. Examples included attempting different reporting formats, using data dashboards, and creating new data visualizations.

Of course, there are is always the flip-sides to the same coin. I recently took a risk when sharing some data with clients by putting together a Prezi presentation, thinking "why not try something different from PowerPoint"?  While they loved the presentation, they were much more interested in what they could do with Prezi than the actual data I presented. It took a lot of time and effort to steer the conversation back to the data!

But my imperfection had a few benefits.  It reminded me of the value of my data  message and the need to ensure that nothing obscures that message when sharing it with clients and /or stakeholders.  It also allowed my clients to see that I was taking risks to better reach them, which they appreciated, and knew I would do when helping them with their own outreach and messaging. So that old saying, 'nothing ventured, nothing gained' was true in this case.

So the moral to the story, for me at least, is to try to be more interesting, even at the risk of not being perfect. I think risk is necessary to growing evaluation and meta-evaluation and truly making evaluation a trans-discipline, to use a term from Michael Scriven.




Angelina said...

I am relatively new to the evaluation field and am happy to have found your blog.

I've been researching a lot about design thinking and how to integrate more creative ways to present information and the stories that data tell in a way that is meaningful to clients. It's a work in progress, but posts like these are inspiring. This reminds me of a consulting motto to give clients what they want, but also give them something to ponder or some insight that causes delight.

Anonymous said...

# iheartevaluation and I love creativity, so trying to find that balance is interesting, but I love the fact that I do not have to dot every I and cross every T in my efforts to engage a specific population. I do not think it effects the integrity of an evaluation if the data is " close to perfect" and used. I'd rather that than my evaluation report sitting on a shelf somewhere. Great post!

Course Evaluation Survey said...

It's very informative, sharp and clear. I think that all has been described in a systematic manner so that readers can get the maximum information and learn many things. This is one of the best blogs I've ever read.