Developing a culture of evaluation is not easy and doesn't happen overnight. It involves developing relationships with the right people in the organisation, including those at the top, and convincing them that evaluation is important and will be of benefit. High level support is vital. Without it, the resources required, both human and financial, will not be forthcoming or will be directed elsewhere. Equally important is understanding by practitioners. In an era characterised by audit and performance monitoring, evaluation can easily be mistaken (or misused) as a managerialist instrument. Yet evaluation can be empowering for practitioners as well as effective for organisations and services. How can we get these messages across?
Even with the resources, how can we ensure that staff throughout the organisation know enough about evaluation to want to do it, use it, wait for it? Do they perceive it as something additional to their usual work ie a burden or as a valuable management tool which will help them with their projects, programmes or policies? To be really valuable, evaluation needs to be considered at the outset. How can we get this message across?
Even with resources and a willing organisation, there is still the issue of complexity. Evaluation is perceived to be "easier" in some fields than others. For example, the introduction of new drugs because the outcomes are clearer (mortality, quality of life, pain reduction) and easier to measure, and there is demand for evaluation findings by health care professionals. Evaluation is moving into more and more complicated sectors such as environment, climate change, governance where the outcomes are less well defined, lack accepted metrics or even contested. Rarely do we have the luxury of the blank canvas of a programme's commencement with clean baseline data. More normally, and especially in large organisations, evaluation is forced to address an already moving picture. Conversely, there are situations where organisations "hide behind complexity". In some cases even where there is none. So we need to unpack complexity, either by breaking complex issues down, or by showing that perhaps they are not as complex as people think. How can we meet this challenge?
Even with resources, a willing organisation and evaluation findings, things do not always change as a result. It may be that no change is required, in which case it is good to know that and have the proof. But what if things do need to change? Who takes the lead and makes those changes happen?
A culture of evaluation means addressing all of these issues and more in a sustainable way. And of course, this doesn't just apply to organisations, but also to the many other contexts in which evaluation takes place through programmes, policies and projects, and at different levels regionally, nationally and internationally.
The conference will seek to explore ways in which this can be achieved by:
Sharing practical experience of building such a culture – what worked, why it worked and the pitfalls;
Updating on the Centre for Evaluating Complexity - the issues they are facing and potential solutions;
Methodologies, new and old - unpacking complexity;
Spreading the word about evaluation – developing toolkits, exploiting the available technology, using social media;
Considering ways of bringing together evaluators from different professional sectors and backgrounds in new forums and interest groups.
The conference will comprise presentations from keynote speakers, panel discussions and interactive plenary sessions, together with parallel sessions for which participants from across the evaluation community will be invited to submit abstracts. There will also be an opportunity for participants to display posters.