Exploring what COVID-19 means for evaluation

While COVID-19 has significantly disrupted our lives, a closer inspection shows we are not all impacted in the same ways. For example, some groups have experienced enormous financial and social impacts, while others have not. 

Recently, practitioners in economic development and evaluation made sense of the fast-shifting contexts they find themselves in. The two events I attended were: the Economic Development New Zealand (EDNZ) online conference and the Australian Evaluation Society’s online FestEVAL. This article considers what the COVID-19 disruptions might mean for evaluation practice, based on my learning at these events.

  1. People are using new types of real-time data for decision making. At the EDNZ conference, the economists and policymakers impressed me with the new sources of real-time data they are using to produce indicators of the state of our economy.
  2. Evaluators are looking for ways to connect better. At the AES FestEVAL, I found evaluators looking for innovative ways to communicate in this new COVID-19 climate. Over 100 evaluators registered for Agile Connections, a session Julie Elliott, Susan Garner, and I ran at FestEVAL. Some associated the title with Agile project management methodology, which they thought we might connect with evaluation. There may indeed be merit in this combination.
  3. Evaluators need to work faster to be relevant – whilst still retaining credibility. As with the economists, clients want evaluators to work to shorter timeframes in response to COVID-19. According to four in five of the 70 or so evaluators who responded to a survey question during the AES FestEVAL session, “Evaluating fast or slow”, evaluators see the need to speed up their practice where possible.

How might we respond? Based on what I heard at these events, I believe we will need to use new and different forms of data in our evaluations. We will need to connect differently and more often, using online platforms. We will also need to speed up our evaluation practice.