Missing the Fruit for the Ladder

2012 EEEN Forum / Evaluation

Written by Matt Keene.

Wisdom, rooted in knowledge of thyself, is a prerequisite of good judgment.Though the purpose of evaluation is to serve, the discipline yet lacks the self-awareness to be a wise and respected steward of the public’s well-being. EF Schumacher describes wisdom as based on four fields of knowledge:

  1. Of thyself
  2. Others
  3. How others see you
  4. The world

In pursuit of disciplinary wisdom, we might consider:

  1. What is going on in the world of evaluation?
  2. What’s going on in other disciplines?
  3. How do others see evaluation?
  4. What’s going on in the world?

The world is achieving more than ever while struggling to survive, grappling with seemingly insoluble problems of population, energy, food, water, species extinction and climate. The world responds to problems by lengthening its disciplinary ladder to use in its expanding universe of sectors, agencies, non-profits, programs, policies and technologies. Its affinity for busyness keeps civilization’s attention focused on the labor rather than its fruits, separating the means from the ends, while values and wisdom are obscured and latent, lay fallow and decay. Relative to other disciplines, evaluation (in all its forms) is new, widespread and growing yet still unknown to the public, other disciplines and sometimes its own practitioners. Its evolution, challenges, skepticism of itself and necessary revolutions in its conceptualization are the progeny of others and how they see (or don’t) the discipline. Searching for the creative margins from within and outside evaluation, new generations of ideas bring vibrance and verdancy to nurture and put to work in the field. Evaluation, only in sedulous pursuit of self-awareness, can (must) be a steward of civilization’s wisdom and its power to see and realize its values.

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