Notes from the Policy Field: American Evaluation Association Annual Conference

Notes from the Policy Field Graphic

Event: American Evaluation Association (AEA) Conference, “Evaluation 2017

Dates: 11/06/17-11/11/17

Notes from the Policy Field provides write-ups of policy-oriented events in Washington, D.C. and comments on whether the format of the event facilitated policy change or improvement. This segment takes a look at the American Evaluation Association (AEA)’s annual conference, which brought together evaluators, scholars, students, and evaluation users to share successful evaluation practices. The conference featured panels, roundtables, demonstrations, and skill-building workshops, among other events. MPA students focusing on Program Evaluation Erik LaDue and Megan Mattson both give their reviews.

Event effectiveness rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Erik LaDue’s Review:

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MPA Erik LaDue attends a session on quantitative data cleaning at the 2017 AEA Evaluation conference.

I was an explorer, and Evaluation 2017 was a jungle of powerpoints, workshops, and discussions. Communities of Evaluation practice, the fauna of this jungle, inhabited scores of rooms to present on growing evaluation’s impact through:

  • Teaching statistical skills (12 steps to cleaning dirty data, How to be a Bayesian Columbo)
  • Putting humanist principles into evaluation (Why and How Realist Evaluation Approaches Matter to Study Impacts of Dance-Based Interventions)
  • Showing techniques to bring evaluation findings to the general population (If an Evaluation Report Falls In a Forest, Does It Make a Sound?)

The daily schedule was an exhaustive list, with hundreds of these events happening simultaneously. I met practitioners of all kinds; some were veterans and others were new to the the field. From talk amongst attendees and trending themes from the presenters, the jungle presented a thematic map to me. This map illustrated a trail from evaluator-as-fact-person toward evaluator-as-Leader.

Living on a Prayer blasted over the speakers after the ending keynote speech. Perhaps the imperative is on evaluators to act, together, now.

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GW MPAs Claudia Silaghi and Megan Mattson volunteer at the conference.

Megan Mattson’s Review:

I joke about my love for program evaluation. In my past workplaces, I excitedly gave out survey links and tracked analytical results. My coworkers laughed at me and asked how I could enjoy what they saw as a boring topic. To me, evaluation means progress and improvement. It’s about looking at what we’re doing, seeing how we’re doing it, and thinking about how we can do it better. At the AEA conference, for once, I was not the only evaluation nerd in the room.

Evaluation 2017 had over 7,000 attendees. I was also overwhelmed by the session options on the app and turned to Erik for guidance. This was my first exposure to the evaluation community, and while it was a lot to take in, it was equally as exciting. When evaluation practitioners spoke, I appreciated hearing their methods and I wanted to gain expertise like theirs. I was a part of the evaluation community and wanted to play an even bigger role.

I chose to focus on foreign policy themed evaluation sessions. Over the past year, I realized I want this to be the focus of my work; little did I know that many people are already evaluating our foreign policy programs, and doing it well. I attended the following sessions:

  • Developing Evaluation Policies for Foreign Aid
  • Complexity-Aware Monitoring and Evaluation in Election Support Programming
  • Learning what works for building a culture of learning at the State Department
  • Elements of Qualitative Data Analysis

In every evaluation, there is a world of nuance to explore when gathering information on a program. This is particularly true in foreign policy evaluation, which makes having a community to brainstorm with important. After attending Evaluation 2017, I am excited to continue to learn evaluation skills and explore this world. That’s exactly what makes this a successful conference. AEA focuses on skill-building and information sharing to enable and empower evaluators to get out and make a difference.

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