Like many evaluators I just kind of fell into the field from a career in research (my MA is in sociology). One day I found myself in a non-profit data position doing evaluation work. Then over the years I’ve learned more and more about the field through a lot of self-initiated learning, experience and participation in the American Evaluation Association.
I believe strongly that evaluative thinking should be embedded into the core of organizations. I also believe that there are many people out there doing evaluation work that don’t currently know they are evaluators. So what about credentials?
The whole doctor and lawyer analogies get used a lot. I don’t want more people without the training thinking of themselves as doctors. Now I do want more people embedded within organizations thinking of themselves as evaluators. But if they are going to be doing high stakes work (which includes a lot of evaluation work), or selling themselves as professional evaluators, that seems different.
To put it another way. If my sink gets clogged, I can probably fix it. It’s good to know how to do these things. If I can’t fix it, maybe a handyman can or maybe I’ll ask a friend who knows a little more than I. But if I have a major plumbing issue, I’m going to call a plumber, and they are certified.
Inspired by Caroline Heider, Director General of the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group, in Professionalizing Evaluation: What More Is There to Say?
From my perspective, there is a range of pressures and factors at play that are nudging us, as a global evaluation community, ever closer towards professionalization.
These include pressures on improving the quality of evaluations.
- Effectiveness of Evaluation. Users of evaluation are increasingly inclined to ask questions about what difference evaluation makes, about value-for-money, and about evaluation quality. These, legitimate questions will intensify, and push us to better demonstrate the effectiveness of our work and how we influence change – the competence of evaluators has a big role to play in this.
- Delivering timely, high quality evaluations. For some time, commissioners of evaluation have struggled to get the right people for the right jobs. At least part of the drive towards professionalization is motivated by frustrations with the costs – not just in money, but also in time, reputation, and effort – associated with poor quality evaluations.
The risks to the users of evaluation findings – making ill-informed decisions and suffering the consequences – are real, and so are the risks to the evaluation profession. If evaluation cannot positively influence change – and quality of evaluation is an important determinant in that – its own relevance might be questioned.