Eleanor Chelimsky on who evaluators are

Cartoon. The evaluators promised to help us once they're done developing their field. Are you sure?  It seems like each night they start over.

After posting his guest post two weeks ago on the 4 missing ps in evaluation, Rakesh Mohan received a comment via email from Eleanor Chelimsky.

For the non evaluators, Eleanor Chelimsky has been incredibly influential to the field in both words and practice, having directed the Program Evaluation and Methodology Division of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) from 1980 to 1994 producing hundreds of evaluations.

In response to my recent guest blog and your related cartoons in Freshspectrum, here is what the great Eleanor Chelimsky said to me in a personal email:

“About who evaluators are: I used to think we were Ulysses, navigating precariously between Scylla and Charybdis, or Antigone, defying conventional wisdom, or Sisyphus, rolling evaluations uphill against politicians pushing them down, or even Heraclitus, desperately trying to find a viable foothold in an everchanging political climate; but now, with a longer view, I see us as humble Penelope, everlastingly ravelling and unravelling the work fabric, always on-going, never finished.”

It was tricky for me to cartoon something so poetic.  I thought and read (I wasn’t so up on my greek poetry), and thought and read, which I guess says something about the power of poetry.  I then came up with something which I think is probably a different interpretation of the above quote.

The cartoon came from a passing thought.  What if evaluators are both Penelope (theory) and Ulysses (practice) and the stakeholders who need our help are the *suitors?

From Balancing Theory and Practice in the Real World[PDF] by Eleanor Chelimsky:

In short, “best practices” can’t be developed separately because evaluation theory and practice are interdependent: each one learns from the other and, in that learning process, both are inspired to stretch, to bend a little, to grow. Further, their mutual dependence endows them both with legitimacy: theory protects practice from singularity and anecdotalism, and practice protects theory from abstraction. Their relationship is a mediation between principle and context, which lends breadth, depth and realism to our work.

*When thinking of our stakeholders as the suitors you have to ignore a bunch of other stuff, like when Ulysses kills all of them after being reunited with Penelope at the end of the poem.