Opportunities for Growth at the AEA Annual Conference

From November 11-16, 2019 I attended the American Evaluation Association (AEA) Annual Conference in Minneapolis Minnesota. The theme of the conference this year was Pathways to the Future of Evaluation and included the following description:

Building the future of the evaluation practice begins at Evaluation 2019 – by assessing and appreciating the past contributions evaluation has made to society, considering the issues where evaluators can bring leadership, and looking ahead toward the renewal of the profession.

The event is organized by AEA, so while there is a large representation of evaluators – from all different fields – from the U.S., the conference itself is an opportunity to connect with evaluators from around the world. I attended two day-long professional development workshops and then two days of sprint sessions – mainly 45-minute presentations and panel discussions from evaluators discussing their innovative work. There were over 3,000 attendees and presenters from all states within the U.S. as well as other countries such as Afghanistan, India, Korea, the Netherlands, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and Mozambique, to name a few. There were meetings of topical interest groups (TIGs) – I’m involved with the Democracy and Governance TIG – and local affiliates across the U.S. – I volunteer with Washington Evaluators (WE) – and plenty of opportunities for networking and most importantly, LEARNING (which is one of my favorite things!). 

 

What I appreciate most about this week outside of meeting individuals involved in evaluation from all over the world, is that the culture of learning and sharing information is so prevalent.

Presenters are more than willing to share their slide decks outlining the advances they are making in different fields of evaluation and answer questions freely and openly about their implementation processes and what success requires. There is plenty of space and opportunity for questioning assumptions and learning from the success and failures of others. While I am often quite intimidated by the level of expertise (and PhDs!) in any given room – I’ve learned that the only responsibility I have is to enter with humility and curiosity and I will be rewarded with generosity and helpful information.

Concepts in our field are evolving all the time, as donors, practitioners, organizations, and stakeholders deepen their understanding about what it takes to monitor progress, collect data, analyze the results, and learn from the processes to implement better, more impactful programs.

While AEA evaluators represent all different fields, including health and education it was the monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) concepts as they relate to international development that of course, drew the most interest for me. Concepts in our field are evolving all the time, as donors, practitioners, organizations, and stakeholders deepen their understanding about what it takes to monitor progress, collect data, analyze the results, and learn from the processes to implement better, more impactful programs. This past week left me feeling invigorated, focused, and excited about the future. I’m inspired to continue honing my skills and expanding my network in order to provide better, more responsive services to our clients! I’ll leave you with a quote that I wrote down from the week that left me feeling particularly motivated to continue along this path:

When I was a PhD student, they told me, Donna, don’t try to change the world… I just ignored them. – Dr. Donna Mertens

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions!

Emily Bango

Emily brings over nine years of experience leading project management and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) efforts for human rights and international development programs. She utilizes skills and perspectives developed through work at U.S.-based international NGOs and for a U.S. donor agency.  She is well-versed in a variety of global programs with a longstanding regional focus in Latin America. Emily holds a Masters degree in Public Management.

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