C2019 Evaluation Canada

Bridges

We’ve chosen the theme Bridges for c2019. It’s certainly a geographically relevant theme as two Bridges span Halifax harbour connecting two sides of the city. Considering broader geography of the Maritimes, there is a Bridge to another province (Confederation bridge) and the well-known Canso Causeway – a bridge connecting Cape Breton Island to mainland Nova Scotia. However, the geographic relevance was not the only inspiration for our theme - we chose Bridges because of the broader connotations it offers for the field of evaluation locally, nationally and globally. It is our intent that our theme inspires delegates to reflect in ways that will add some originality to the term and make the conference memorable. 

Sub-theme 1: Bridges that connect

When you search the definition of the term bridge, you find some variant of ‘a structure built over/ around/ through/ across some obstacle’. We hope that this sub-theme will inspire conversations about the connections that have been built, sustained, or strengthened through evaluation theories and practice. This theme is an opportunity to share experiences about building and traveling bridges to overcome obstacles to evaluation activities.

Further, this sub-theme allows us to consider the role of evaluation in overcoming barriers to programming. Evaluators have a role in building bridges to overcome obstacles to program success by supporting programs in reaching their intended destinations in an efficient and effective manner. Engaging in evaluation may provide a means of improving connectivity amongst stakeholders; it can be an opportunity to strengthen collaborative efforts, build new relationships or enhance existing ones.

Sub-theme 2: Sustaining and using bridges

Building on the first sub-theme, sustaining bridges provides an opportunity to explore the role evaluation plays in supporting established connections. In some cases, bringing people together to make a difference is easy; sustaining the connection can be much more challenging. Physical bridges get eroded and worn down from the weather, natural occurrences and use; other bridges are built but not used as effectively as they could be and become neglected; still others lose their relevance as new methods overcoming barriers are established.

We hope this sub-theme inspires conversations about how to build sustainable bridges that can weather storms and be adapted as needed to remain useful. We invite delegates to consider bridges that need up-keep or new supports and which bridges are no longer needed because the purpose(s) for which they were built are no longer relevant.

Sub-theme 3: Stories from the ship’s bridge

Another meaning of a bridge (again, geographically relevant to the Maritimes) is ‘the elevated platform from which the captain steers a ship.’ From the bridge the captain has access to a broad view of the ship and the surrounding environment and access to a variety of navigational tools that allow an enhanced perspective from which to guide the ship, crew, passengers and cargo to its final destination. The captain is tasked with interpreting information from the various tools and devices that comprise the ship’s operational and navigation systems while also considering the broader system in which the ship is being navigated and the people on the ship. The Captain must consider the purpose of the journey, the abilities and limits of the ship’s crew, the nature of its cargo and passengers, resources available to complete the journey and the timeline to reach its final destination. Taking all this into account allows for in the moment decision making and continuous course-correction to allow the captain to optimally steer the ship through whatever it encounters on its journey.

This meaning of a bridge conjures notions of complex system evaluations, which we intend to inspire delegates to share their experiences in all aspects of this analogy - from providing leaders with the tools or data to inform decisions, to experiences that demonstrate the value of an evaluative lens for leaders in complex settings. When evaluators are invited to share the view from the bridge the breadth of perspective can enhance their thinking and practice. However, evaluators sometimes find themselves standing on the bridge alone, in the dark, during a raging storm, tasked with making recommendations about how to navigate rough seas using only their own experience and a tiny beacon of light from a far away light house as tools to guide them. Stories from the ship’s bridge will allow us to share lessons learned and innovations resulting from the experience of evaluative leadership in complex systems.

We hope that you’ll meet us on the bridge between theory and practice at the 2019 CES National Conference, which CES leaders and members have been building, sustaining and navigating from for 40 years. From here we will sustain and improve what we’ve built and seek guiding beacons of light on the horizon that will help us navigate unchartered and unknown frontiers.