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The Calling of Creative Evaluators



By Michael Quinn Patton, 1981 

Revised Nora F. Murphy Johnson and A. Rafael Johnson, 2018


CREATIVE EVALUATION is guided by deeply held values and shared principles. Evaluation that positions the arts as an essential way of knowing and communicating. Evaluation that supports innovative change through uncertain terrain, with an unwavering commitment to making the world more just. Evaluation that is an integral part of the collaborative and co-creative process. Evaluation that is creative so it can guide and inspire no matter where the developmental journey leads.


Creative evaluation calls for creative evaluators.


WHAT CALLS CREATIVE EVALUATORS?

The light inside us calls creative evaluators. The messiness in our lives calls creative evaluators to describe without oversimplifying. The ignorance in our minds calls creative evaluators for insight. The darkness under our beds calls creative evaluators for illumination. The fear in our hearts calls creative evaluators for love. The sleepiness in our pillows calls creative evaluators to get woke. The suffocation in our throats calls creative evaluators to breathe, and the ugliness in our streets calls creative evaluators for beauty. 


Caring and violence call creative evaluators. ineffectiveness and inefficiency and thrift and potency call creative evaluators. Tolerance and hatred, sensitivity and callousness call creative evaluators. #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, #NotOneMore, and #NeverAgain call creative evaluators. Bodies - your body, my body, the body next to you, the bodies living under bridges, using wheelchairs, addicted, hungry, incarcerated, deported, scarred, pained, missing a this or a that but still working to feed other bodies - they call creative evaluators. The struggle calls creative evaluators. We are called to reflect, to study, to see, to understand, to hear and be heard, to act and react and pro-act against the cry, "Nothing can be done." 


Creative evaluators are called to help people figure out where to start, how to move forward, how to make sense of what’s happening, and to keep engaging, even when the path is uncertain and hard. We describe how we got here - the what was. We listen and observe. We find patterns, themes, and hidden levers that help some and harm others. We explore what worked in the past and why, and what didn’t work and why. 


We describe what exists—the what is. We clarify, illuminate, reveal, analyze, and interpret. We clarify the what is, about people’s inner lives and their connections to others—their histories, their fears, and their plans for the future. 


We clarify hopes - the what should be, elucidating shared values and translating these into powerful, meaningful, guiding principles. We cohere vague visions into purpose. 

We help people see possibilities - the what could be, helping them work through fears of failure, of uncertainty, of judgement, of change. We show them the multiple paths open to them and help them anticipate what they will find along the way, equipping them with the reflective, creative, and evaluative skills and support that will help them choose. We sometimes accompany them on their journey, shedding light backward on the places they have been, casting our beam forward to expose the obstacles ahead, and pointing out forks in the road. 


We make what was, what is, what should be, and what could be visible through theater, painting, clay, textiles, literature, sculpture, film, music, food, and poetry. We hold space for silenced voices and we hold conflicting truths in both hands.


Creative evaluators are called to use our training, our knowledge, our skills, our intelligence, our intuition, our experience, our wisdom, our convictions, our social positions, our credentials, and our access to places of power to help make the system—whatever it may be—deliver on its promises—whatever they may be. We are called on to be strong, honest, forthright, forceful, rigorous—and creative.


Evaluation is noble. Beyond the contracts, the statistics, the EvalTalk debates, the tenure systems, the fallibility of our methods, the paradigms that limit our vision—behind the trappings of our discipline we hear a noble calling. We listen. We keep faith. We believe. We work together to deliver on the promises of our discipline and profession. At stake is the potential for social change initiatives to benefit from learning. At stake is the quality of the lives of our fellow human beings. At stake is a more just and equitable world. 



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