We often get so busy with the “work” of evaluation that we don’t take the time to reflect upon what we are doing—how it impacts our organization, our clients, the participants in our studies, and many other individuals. The reason for this is attributable to many factors:
1) We get busy working on existing projects or new projects, so there is much work to be done and little time to think about doing it…okay, quick, onto the next thing…
2) Self-reflection is one of those things that we ask clients to do when we review their data or results of an evaluation report. This can be a time-consuming and sometimes difficult process so the reflection, while essential, is harder to do than it sounds.
3) Honestly, we budget time and resources on our projects to do the work; we rarely budget time or other resources on the reflection of doing the work. While we might occasionally celebrate completing a project after a report or presentation is finished, we don’t spend more time seriously evaluating our own learning in the process.
4) We really like the doing part—it is what gets me up every day and keeps me moving forward. Self-reflection is a bit trickier. And like any client that may be subject to “evaluation anxiety” for fear of what they might learn from a reflection of their own data, we similarly may be subject to the same level of anxiety with our own internal processes or work product. We are all human, after all.
Why is this important or even relevant to our own work?
Recently, I have talked a lot about Meta Evaluation (click here to learn more about Meta Evaluation) in the Advanced Certificate Methods course that Michael Scriven and I co-teach at Claremont Graduate University (click here to learn more about that course). The essential purpose of a meta-evaluation process is to practice what you preach by subjecting your own work to the scrutiny of a trained evaluator so that she/he can determine if the evaluation was adequate in scope, quality, etc. Meta-evaluation is probably not done as often as would be beneficial to evaluators, but I suspect one underlying cause might be that it involves a good deal of self-reflection. A time-consuming, difficult, psychologically intimidating self-reflection. However, the benefits that can be gained by just a little self-reflection—whether an informal, internal organization’s process or a more formal meta-evaluation conducted by another evaluation professional—can outweigh the costs. Like most things, this is easier said than done. My hope is that we can more formally and informally integrate more self-reflection into our own work so that our doing the work is more efficient, meaningful, and continues to improve over time.