A couple of great days in Montreal
Art of Harvesting, Art of Hosting, Conversation, Evaluation, Facilitation, Learning, Travel, World Cafe
Just about to leave Montreal this morning for Toronto and north to Thornbury, Ontario to visit family. I was here for the conference of the Canadian Evaluation Society, where I participated on a panel on innovative dialogue methods (and yes I noted the irony in my remarks) and later led a World Cafe where I presented some of the sense-making processes I’ve been working on. I was here on the recommendation of Junita Brown who has been in some good conversations with evaluators around the use of the World Cafe for evaluation purposes. Originally Amy Lenzo and I were scheduled to host a cafe here that was much more ambitious: a plenary cafe with the participants to explore the learning field of the conference. Through various machinations that was cut back to a panel presentation and a very small world cafe at the end of the day with 16 people. The conference was one of those highly scripted and tightly controlled affairs that I hardly ever go to.
The session before us was a case competition where student teams were responding to a mock RFP from Canada World Youth to evaluate an Aboriginal Youth leadership Program. Not a single team had an Aboriginal person on it, and every single presentation was basically the same: full of fundamental flaws about what constitutes success (“Did the youth return to their communities”) or what constitutes a cultural lens (“We are using a medicine wheel to understand various parts of the program). One group of fresh faced non-Aboriginal students even had the temerity to suggest that they were applying a decolonizing strategy. Their major exposure to indigenous communities was through a single book on decolonizing methodology and some internet searches about medicine wheels. It was shocking actually, because these were the students that made the finals of this competition. They looked like fresh versions of the kinds of evaluation firms that show up in First Nations certain they know what’s going on.
To make matters worse, the case competition organizer had a time mix up with the conference planner meaning that our panel started 30 minutes late which gave me very little time to present. As I as doing a a cafe directly afterwards I ceded most of my time to my panel colleagues Christine Loignon, Karoline Truchon who did a very interesting presentation on their use of PhotoVoice. It was clear to me at the conference that the practitioners among us had a better grasp of complexity theory, power and non-linear sense-making than any of the professional evaluators I met.
I presented most of the work that I have been documenting here over the last few months, and later led a small group through a cafe where we engaged in the creation of a sensemaking framework and used a pen and paper signification framework.
By far the better experience for me was hanging out with friends and colleagues. On the first night I arrived I had dinner and drinks with my friends from Percolab: Paul Messer, Samatha Slade and Elizabeth Hunt. We ate fish and chips, drank beer and whisky and caught up. On Sunday I met Jon Husband for lunch on the grass at McGill with his delightful godson and then joined the Percolab folks for a visit to the new co-operative ECTO co-working space on Mount Royal in the Plateau, followed by a barbeque with family and friends.
And Last night, after my presentations a great evening with Juan Carlos Londono and Lisa Gravel. We had dinner at Lola Rosa and spent hours going over the new French translation of the GroupWorks Pattern Language Deck. This was a brilliant time. I learned a bunch of new French words and most fun of all we discussed deeper etymology, nuance and the limitations and benefits of our respective languages in trying to convey some of the more esoteric practices of hosting groups. The new deck has some beautiful reframing and some names for patterns that need some work. But it’s exciting to see this translation and I always love diving into the language.
I really do like Montreal a lot and in the past number of years come to love it more as I have lost my inhibition about speaking French. the more French I speak, the more French I learn and the more the heart of the city opens up. Many English Canadians have the idea that Montreal is a cold hearted city to English speakers, but I find that isn’t true at all. Just offer what you can in French and people open up. And if you’re lucky enough to sit down with lovers of words like the friends I have, your learning explodes.
Off for a couple of days to visit family and then home to Bowen Island for a series of small local facilitation gigs, all of which will tell me something deeper about my home place.
In fairness to the students in the CES case competition, they only have a half-day to research the case, develop an evaluation design/budget and a presentation for the judges. They do it all on-site at the conference, have no idea what the case is about in advance and any background they might have related to the case is purely accidental. I wouldn’t take this as indicative of what they’d propose if they actually had time to research and reflect. And hardly their fault that they were given a case about an Aboriginal youth program even though they’re non-Aboriginal. From your comments it sounds like the conditions of the competition weren’t clear.
Really sad I missed your session there.
Yes I get that. What was more shocking was the default assumptions they are leading with. The linear causality especially. It was clear to me watching the finalists that an unspoken world view is prevalent about what constitutes a competent program evaluation of an Aboriginal leadership program. It was standard operating procedure and the same kinds of tools and processes we have seen over and over in indigenous communities that have created myriad problems.
And regardless of the content of the proposal, the teams I saw were visibly all white and their models (even in application of indigenous cultural frames) were standard western academic. I would have loved one team to discuss their discomfort with their own worldview in assessing the program but they were being rewarded for looking like experts. That is concerning.
I agree. An opportunity lies in changing how we teach evaluation. And supporting ongoing efforts to change how we and others think about evaluation. Thanks for raising this.
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