Last week, more than 3000 evaluators descended on my hometown of Washington, DC for the American Evaluation Association’s annual conference. I learned this much + slept this much = rockstar conference.
I had the pleasure of spending Monday and Tuesday in Michael Quinn Patton’s Developmental Evaluation workshop. Due 10% to my bad vision and 90% to being starstruck, I sought out front-row seats:
Best seats in the house for the best speaker in the field. #omgMQP #eval13 pic.twitter.com/fQhXnPWBH3
— Ann K. Emery (@AnnKEmery) October 14, 2013
Along with many other nuggets of gold, MQP shared the Mountain of Accountability, a simple visualization demonstrating a Maslow’s hierarchy for organizations. (Start with the basics like auditing, personnel review, and outputs; then progress to typical program evaluation; then progress to developmental evaluation and strategic learning.) This visual was a fan favorite; the ipads and iphones were flying around as everyone tried to snap a picture. Anyone else think that MQP would be a great addition to the dataviz TIG?
A must see! “World debut” of @MQuinnP‘s Mountain of Accountability at #eval13 – like a Maslow’s hierarchy for orgs pic.twitter.com/WSZfk7fOmE — Ann K. Emery (@AnnKEmery) October 15, 2013
My biggest takeaway? Developmental evaluation is probably the future of evaluation, or at least the future of my evaluation career. Also, many evaluators wouldn’t call this approach “evaluation,” which means I’m not an evaluator, but an “evaluation facilitator.” Time to order new business cards!
On Tuesday night I had Dataviz Drinks with Stephanie Evergreen, Tania Jarosewich, Andy Kirk, Johanna Morariu, Jon Schwabish, and Robert Simmon, along with a few more poor souls who had to listen to our endless enthuasiam about charts, fonts, and other things “worth staying up late for.” We’ve each been trying to reshape the dataviz community from one of frequent criticism to one of encouragement and peer learning (e.g., the Dataviz Hall of Fame.) A few beers later, the #thumbsupviz hashtag was born.
Stay tuned for our growing gallery of superb visualizations at thumbsupviz.com.
@AnnKEmery plugs #thumbsupviz pic.twitter.com/qnLcdRmIbg
— Stephanie Evergreen (@evalu8r) October 17, 2013
omg Factor Analysis…
On Wednesday I attended a pre-conference workshop about factor analysis. I learned the approach in grad school a few years ago, have only used it twice, and wanted to brush up my skills. The instructor provided a wealth of resources:
#Eval13 workshop instructors have really gone above and beyond! Entire beautiful binder on factor analysis: pic.twitter.com/yJpuoB6wqn
— Ann K. Emery (@AnnKEmery) October 16, 2013
My biggest takeaway? Ouch. My brain was hurting. Leave the factor analysis to the experts because 99% of us are doing it wrong anyway. You don’t have to tell me twice!
Performance Management & Evaluation: Two Sides of the Same Coin
On Wednesday afternoon, I gave an Ignite presentation with my former supervisor and performance management expert, Isaac Castillo. Paired Ignites are rarely attempted, and I’m glad we took a risk. I had a lot of fun giving this talk. Stay tuned for future collaborations from Isaac and I!
Check out our slides and the recording of our presentation:
Excel Elbow Grease: How to Fool Excel into Making (Pretty Much) Any Chart You Want
On Thursday morning, I shared four strategies for making better evaluation charts: 1) adjusting default settings until your chart passes the Squint Test; 2) building two charts in one; 3) creating invisible bars; and 4) really really exploiting the default chart types, like using stacked bars to create a timeline or using a scatter plot to create a dot plot.
The section about dot plots was pretty popular, so I recorded it later:
I thought the presentation went okay, but afterwards, an audience member came up to me and asked, “So if I wanted to make a different type of chart in Excel, like anything besides a typical bar chart, how would I do it? What could I make?” “That’s what I just spent the last 45 minutes showing you.” “No I mean, if I wanted to make one of these in Excel, could I do it?” “Weren’t you in the audience for the presentation I just did?” “Yes, that would be a cool presentation, you should show us how to make those charts in Excel.” Thanks for the great idea buddy, I’ll submit that idea to next year’s conference.
East-coast happy hour
For the second year in a row, the east-coast AEA affiliates got together for a joint happy hour on Thursday night. Good vibes and familiar faces.
The Conference is Over, Now What? Professional Development for Novice Evaluators
On Friday afternoon I led a roundtable with tips for novice evaluators. The discussion was awesome, especially the great chats I had with people afterwards. I’m going to write a full post recapping that session. Stay tuned!
How to Climb the R Learning Curve Without Falling Off the Cliff: Advice from Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced R Users
On Saturday morning I had the pleasure of presenting with a former teammate, Tony Fujs, and my new teammate, Will Fenn. Tony dazzled the audience with strategies for automating reports and charts with just a few lines of R code, and Will shared tips to help novices avoid falling off the learning curve cliff. Check out their resources and tips in this handout.
I thought the presentation went okay, but afterwards, an audience member commented, “It would be really cool if you got some evaluators together to show us what kinds of things are possible in R.” “Umm yep, that’s what we just did, Will and Tony showed how to automate reports and create data visualizations in R.” “Yep exactly, that would be a great panel, you could get several evaluators together and show how to automate reports and make data visualizations in R.” “Did you see the panel we just did?” “Yeah you should put a panel together like that.” Okay thanks, I’ll consider it.
Evaluation Blogging: Improve Your Practice, Share Your Expertise, and Strengthen Your Network
Dozens of evaluators have influenced and guided my blogging journey, and I was fortunate to co-present with three of them on Saturday: Susan Kistler, Chris Lysy, and Sheila Robinson. I first started blogging after watching Chris’ Ignite presentation at Eval11, Susan’s initial encouragement kept me going, and Sheila provides a sounding board for my new ideas.
Can you tell we presented on Saturday morning?! Chris and I arrived early. I almost panicked, but instead Chris and I started laughing hysterically, and then a second person arrived. Close call!
By the time we started, we drew a good crowd of 30-40 bloggers and soon-to-be bloggers. Same time next year??
Evaluation Practice in the Early 21st Century
Where have we come from, and where are we headed? Evaluators have accomplished some amazing things, and the future is bright. Patrick Germain and Michelle Portlock, evaluation directors at nonprofit organizations, shared strategies for making evaluation happen when you are not in the room:
For me, the mark of a good presentation is when the evaluator shows vs. tells us something new. Kim Sabo Flores, Chad Green, Robert Shumer, David White, Javier Valdes, and Manolya Tanyu talked about incorporating youth voices into policymaking decisions. The best part: the panelists invited a youth participant to speak alongside them on the panel so that she could share her experiences firsthand.
A dataviz panel shared a brief history of dataviz; strategies for displaying qualitative data; and ideas for using graphic recording:
The Innovation Network team is pretty fond of graphic recording too, and Kat Athanasiades even recorded an entire advocacy evaluation panel. Thanks to Cindy Banyai for capturing this awesome video!
Graphic recording in action #eval13 https://t.co/8O1A7AWZhr
— Cindy Banyai (@RefocusInstitut) October 19, 2013
And just in case you’re not familiar with my plans for our field…
Lookin’ good, Eval! See you next year in Denver!