TASA Career Development Grant 2022_Jin Chen
TASA's Career Development Grant enabled me to attend the 2022 International Evaluation Conference of the Australasian Evaluation Society. Held in person on the lands of the Kaurna people, in Adelaide, where I was based for my PhD, the conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet evaluators and like-minded professionals across Australasia.
With the theme Weaving Evaluation into the Whole, the 3-day conference showcased evaluative thinking and doing in programmes and policies. The presentations also discussed values, ethics, new ways and methods to advance and reposition the practice of evaluation. Being the first in-person conference since the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference was abuzz with energy, conversations and reunions. As an emerging evaluator, I attended the conference to learn more about the field and connect with others. It was also a good excuse to take my mind off my PhD for a few days to focus on professional development! I sat, listened, asked questions and participated. Some sessions were hands-on and provided a taste of doing evaluation differently, such as by rapid prototyping or designing for complexity. Others were more philosophical and pondered about equity, inclusion and co-participation in evaluation projects.
Reflecting on the three days, I found it hard to summarise the key takeaways from the conference. What I found most valuable was the diversity of people, backgrounds and perspectives in evaluation. While it was a profession with its own identity, theories and foundations, there was no one way to be an evaluator, no one way to do evaluation. Much like research, doing evaluation depended on the topic or problem at hand, the questions asked and the assumptions that underpinned them. Speaking with evaluators who came from public health, science and arts backgrounds, or simply ‘stumbled into’ and fell in step with the field of evaluation, I could see the value that this diversity brings. As much as I did not want to bring my PhD into the three days, I found multiple points of convergence between my research and evaluative thinking and doing. My adoption of virtual photovoice, for example, was echoed in the participatory action and storytelling presentations. The complexities of doing intersectional and equitable evaluation resonated with my examination of LGBTQ+ multicultural ageing. These convergences provided food for thought for my thesis. More importantly, they provided a thread to weave my work and experiences into evaluation.