It is “Juneuary” on the west coast of British Columbia, a time of year when low-pressure systems of cold air break off the jet stream and drift down the coast providing unstable weather, rain, and cloudy days. It’s like a return to winter.
It reminds me that walking in the mountains in the winter, or indeed during these wet and unpredictable weeks, can result in getting lost in fog. When that happens, your response to the situation becomes very important if you are to make choices that don’t endanger lives.
My colleague Carolyn Camman was presenting on a webinar with a client today and used a lovely metaphor to describe developmental evaluation relating to being lost in a fog. I’m always looking at ways of describing this approach to evaluation with people because it is so different from the kinds of evaluation we are used to, where someone external to a process judges you on how well you did what you said you were going to do. Having said that, I like to introduce people to “developmental evaluation” by telling them it is actually just a fancy way of talking about what people do to make everyday decisions in changing and unfamiliar contexts. In some ways, you could call it “natural evaluation.”
Carolyn used the example of navigating in a fog. When the cloud descends on you, you best slow down for a minute and think about your next step. You have a sense of your destination – a nice warm house and a cup of tea – but suddenly what you thought you knew about the world has disappeared.
You can manage for a short time based on the last picture you had of your surroundings, but after a few meters of walking, you will be in a very different place, and you need to carefully probe your way forward. As you find the path again, you can move with a bit more confidence, as as the trail fades, you will adjust and slow down to sense more carefully.
Developmental evaluation is indistinguishable from adaptive action. The two sets of processes form an interdependent pair: you simply can’t do one without the other. How you choose to developmentally evaluate – including what you consider to be important, your axiology – is critical to how you will gather information and what decision you will take to adjust your action. Walking in fog towards a warm cup of tea is fairly straightforward. Creating new forms of community safety in a world dominated by racism and social and economic injustice is rather more difficult.
How do you explain this to folks?
When you are lost