This week I’d like to share thoughts about evaluative thinking, in part because two weeks ago I was part of a session at the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) annual conference in Baltimore titled “Evaluation as Learning” (titled as such because learning is the ultimate result of evaluative thinking). We took a risk: I set the stage by presenting the Cycle of Intentional Practice (see our first blog post) with a distinct focus on the reflection quadrant, and the three panelists were allotted five minutes to present a “story”; we used the remaining time to ask the audience questions (rather than having them ask us questions). Over the years, AAM has inadvertently trained session attendees to expect 60 minutes of panelists’ presentations (and sometimes more) and 5 or 10 minutes of Q & A whereby the audience would pose questions to panelists. Rarely have sessions been intentionally flipped where the bulk of a session’s time (50 minutes of 75 minutes) is used to ask attendees questions. We all wondered if we should ask our friends to attend the session so our queries wouldn’t be met with silence.
We didn’t surprise the audience with this strategy; we were transparent and gave them a heads-up by saying: “Our intention today is to share brief stories about how we have used evaluation as a learning tool (rather than a judgment tool). Along the way we will be highlighting and clarifying evaluative thinking, and each presenter will spend 5 minutes doing this. Our intention is also this: we will spend the remaining time asking you questions, in a sense, to model the kind of inquiry that organizations can use to engage in evaluative thinking. We want to hear your thoughts and reflections, and we welcome you to challenge our thoughts and push us beyond where we are; then all of us will be using inquiry and reflection to pursue learning—the ultimate goal of evaluative thinking.”
Evaluative thinking (ET) is an intentional, enduring process of questioning, reflecting, thinking critically, learning, and adapting. While learning is at the essence of ET, adapting (one’s thinking or behaviors) is the challenge. An underlying thread in our presentation supported a fact about evaluative thinking—evaluative thinking is effective and meaningful when it is ingrained in the organization’s culture and the responsibility of everyone—leadership and staff.
Evaluative thinking is embedded in intentional practice and the reflection quadrant is essential, as learning is not likely to happen without people taking the time to ask the tough questions and reflect on reality (e.g., evidence of performance) and practice. When evaluation as learning is pursued, it can be a catalyst for personal learning, interpersonal learning, project learning, organizational learning, and field-wide learning.
For more on evaluative thinking, check out:
Preskill, H. and Torres, R. T. (1998). Evaluative inquiry for learning in organizations. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.