American Evaluation Association Conference

PAF Academic and Professional Development Fund Experience
October 20, 2013

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the American Evaluation Association conference.  The conference, which was held in D.C. this year, is for evaluators  who work on “ assessing the strengths and weaknesses of programs, policies, personnel, products, and organizations to improve their effectiveness.”

The conference was an interesting and educational experience.  My concentration in the Trachtenberg School is in Program Evaluation and Analysis, so the conference fit well with my academic interests.  Conference sessions like “Data Visualization in the 21st Century” and “Evaluation Rubrics: What, Why, and How” served to underscore concepts that I have been learning in classes and in my placement.  They also provided some new insights and perspectives that will be useful both in class and in my placement going forward.

There were two sessions in particular that I really learned a great deal from: “Making Evaluation Happen When You Are Not in the Room: Influencing Systems to Support Evaluation Sustainability in Non-Profit Organizations” and “Leading Change Through Assessment.”  The former was an incredible insight into techniques to support assessment and evaluation throughout an organization.  The session was led by two presenters who spearhead evaluation for their respective organizations, but have worked to embed a culture of assessment into their organizations more broadly.  One of the topics of discussion – what happens when the departmental staff in charge of evaluation turnover –was of particular interest given a conversation asking essentially the same question that I was recently a part of in my placement.

“Leading Change Through Assessment” was also a great learning session, and was framed in a university context.  The session was interactive, as the presenter taught us how to create more effective learning outcomes and measurements, demonstrated the importance of rubrics, and discussed the challenges she has had as the Assistant Provost for Assessment at her institution.

Overall, I really enjoyed the conference.  I found it to be an excellent introduction to evaluation, and a great opportunity to see some trends and next-generation ideas in evaluation and assessment.  The only thing that makes me at all hesitant to unequivocally recommend it to other PAFs and/or other graduate students is the fact that next year it is going to be in Denver, CO, making it a much greater outlay in terms financial and other opportunity costs, such as missing classes.  Finally, I have a quote from the conference that I really found to be an insightful way to frame evaluation: “evaluation should be how the work is done, not more work to be done.”

Adam Bethke

PAF Class of 2015
BA '13
MPA '15