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Four Things I Learned at the Next Generation Evaluation Conference

The recent Next Generation Evaluation conference took nearly 400 participants on a journey to consider how evaluation needs to continue to evolve in an environment of increased complexity, connectivity and change.

Four observations from the day struck me as having profound implications for social sector actors and evaluators alike:

  • In the new digital age, we are toddlers. According to IBM, 90% of the world’s digital data has been created in the last 2 years. No wonder most of us are probably behaving like reckless 2-year olds in how we treat our data in terms of privacy and security. The implications of the shift to a digital society will be profound and we are largely unprepared for them. As provocatively described by  Lucy Bernholz in her presentation on the day, we need to ask hard questions about who is and who is not a digital citizen and find ways to respectfully treat the information of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
  • Our questions need to be questioned. Lee Schorr – who’s seen a lot of questions asked in her lifetime, challenged us to do so. While we need a place for “Did it work?” questions, more room needs to be made for questions like “How can it work better?” Sensitivity to the questions asked is particularly important for those who commission evaluations.
  • Complexity doesn’t have to be so complex. You can understand something about complexity and systems thinking if you can plan a kid’s birthday party. Brenda Zimmerman dared us to try it with this video.
  • We need to slow down… and speed up. FSG’s John Kania captured this observation in his concluding remarks. More reflective practice, “meaning-making” was the word repeated throughout the day, needs to be a part of our lives – individually and as organizations. This means slowing down. As contradictory as it sounds, slowing down allows us to speed up the pace of improvement to tackle our increasingly complex challenges. In this context, timely evaluation is more relevant than ever.

If you were there on the day, add your own observations! Those who couldn’t join us can visit to view conference videos and presentations, including the keynote address and other recently added presentations.