At the 2008 National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation, we focused on 5 challenges identified by participants at our past conferences as being vitally important for our field to address. This is one in a series of five posts featuring the final reports from our “challenge leaders.”
Evaluation Challenge: Demonstrating that dialogue and deliberation works
How can we demonstrate to power-holders (public officials, funders, CEOs, etc.) that D&D really works? Evaluation and measurement is a perennial focus of human performance/change interventions. What evaluation tools and related research do we need to develop?
John Gastil, Communications Professor at the University of Washington
Janette Hartz-Karp, Professor at Curtin Univ. Sustainability Policy (CUSP) Institute
Report on the Evaluation Challenge:
The most poignant reflection of where the field of deliberative democracy stands in relation to evaluation is that despite this being a specific ‘challenge’ area, there was only one session in the NCDD Conference aimed specifically at evaluation – ‘Evaluating Dialogue and Deliberation: What are we Learning?’ by Miriam Wyman, Jacquie Dale and Natasha Manji. This deficit of specific sessions in evaluation at the NCDD Conference offerings is all the more surprising since as learners, practitioners, public and elected officials and researchers, we all grapple with this issue with regular monotony, knowing that it is pivotal to our practice.
Suffice to say, this challenge is so daunting that few choose to face it head-on. Wyman et al. made this observation when they quoted the cautionary words of the OECD (from a 2006 report): “There is a striking imbalance between time, money and energy that governments in OECD countries invest in engaging citizens and civil society in public decision-making and the amount of attention they pay to evaluating the effectiveness and impact of such efforts.”
The conversations during the Conference appeared to weave into two main streams: the varied reasons people have for doing evaluations and the diverse approaches to evaluation.