Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Evaluation for What?

I have mentioned in previous posts the 12 month assessment and learning process we are undertaking for our upcoming World Conservation Congress (October 2008). An internal evaluation team is asking a question each month or so to a sample of staff working across functions in preparation (and delivery) of this major quadrennial event. Their aim is to capture more iterative and detailed reflection on learning over time, rather than doing a huge debriefing the day or week AFTER the event. The result should be information that we can strategically use, rather than the more generic (self-) congratulatory "smile sheet" responses that both participants and conference workers alike generate in the glow and relief of the end of such a huge event.

The question this month asks us to describe what we have learned since our last World Conservation Congress (Bangkok 2003), and what we are doing differently as a result.

I really like this question for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is an intervention in itself. Just the act of asking this question gets people to reflect on the past process and identify their learning, and think about how they are applying it now - effectively helping us to complete our learning cycles through application. If we have not already done so (connect our efforts last time with this new event), this question will get us to start, and potentially open up a whole box of useful know-how that has been parked in the dusty corridor of our brains. Secondly, the question is appreciative, in that is assumes that people have learned something from their past experience, and they just need to write it down to share with other people. Thirdly, I remember reading recently that people remember not so much what happened but what they TOLD people happened at an event. So by getting people to document their learning (even if it is 3 years later), the chances are greater that they will remember it longer (thus have the knowledge available to pull into service) by having had to analyse, process, and then craft a "story" for sharing.

I would say that one of the first things that we learned from our last World Conservation Congress is how to run an assessment of the event that is focused on learning, rather than on writing an evaluation report for funders. Now that will help make our next event even better.

Of course, 3 years later, people might not remember the detail strongly, but have feelings or impressions. Another good thing about this learning assessment is that you can share in what ever format you like. My impressions from the last Congress were strong, perhaps I will choose expressionistic painting or interpretative dance - how would the evaluation team work with that?

Did I answer the question?