Thinking Like an Evaluator: 2016 Election Edition

As a public health social worker, I became interested in the field of evaluation because I saw an opportunity to use data to inform programs and policies. Not surprisingly, I geek out over elections, making sure to do my research on each candidate and their policy platform. Twenty-four hours ago, like many of you, I cast my vote in a historic election, knowing that whatever the outcome, we would be entering a new phase for our country.

The people have spoken, the data is in, and, America, we have a problem. In evaluation terms, we ignored the early warning signs. We ignored the indicators on the dashboard. We created a predictive model that failed. We experienced an unanticipated outcome.

Today I’m hearing a lot of different reactions to the results, one of which is that people are planning to leave the country. So many people, in fact, that Canada’s immigration website crashed last night as the results were being processed. When we experience unanticipated or negative outcomes in an evaluation, we don’t run and hide, we explore. We ask ourselves and those involved questions like,

  • What contributed to the results of the election?
  • What are the socio-economic-political factors that influenced the outcome?
  • What can we learn from this experience?
  • What are the anticipated and unanticipated effects of this outcome?
  • What alternative solutions might be able to address this problem?

So, America, it’s time to explore and evaluate not run and hide. Regardless of your political affiliation, this outcome is unacceptable and horrific. Think about it, according to the popular vote, half of those who voted supported a candidate who has continuously and unabashedly demonstrated a disregard for the foundational values of our country.

My first reactions when I explore are that I’m saddened, disheartened, and concerned that the results indicate this phase is not progress but misogyny, sexism, racism, xenophobia, and hate. I’m scared and shaken to my core. I fear for my safety, security, and health while also recognizing the privilege that I have based on the different identities I hold. I worry about my friends and family and those I have yet to meet whose basic human rights are going to be taken away. I fear for future generations who’s wellbeing we’re forecasting with each of our decisions. Have we learned nothing from history?

And I want to stay in the comfort of my bed and hide. But progress and change don’t happen in the comfort zone. This is our moment. We have to get up and show up. We have to lean on each other and figure out how to move forward. We have to be unrelenting advocates for social justice. We have to think like evaluators. It’s time to get curious. Blame and hate have no place in this conversation, they will not bring progress. We have to come together as communities and as a country and practice understanding, kindness, and love. So in the words of Glennon Doyle Melton, “carry on, warriors” – let your light shine in the darkness.

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