Category Archives: Meditation

Managing Evaluator Anxiety

6Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Do not be anxious… Do not be apprehensive or fearful. Do not worry about something that might harm you in some way at some time.

I cannot prevent feeling anxious, but I can manage anxiety with the actions listed here by Paul. I can talk about the situation with God, and ask for help. That helps me realize that alone I cannot do what matters most.

Anxiety reminds me that I am not self sufficient in being what I was created to be. I am dependent on my loving Creator for knowing what that is, and then acting on that knowledge. In this sense anxiety is a friend.

In every situation… This includes everything that happens, or does not happen, in an evaluation. Stakeholders quarrel as the evaluation is being planned, torrential rain makes it impossible to travel to villages to interview and observe per the data collection plan, evaluation team members become ill, etc. In these and innumerable other circumstances instead of fretting about how an evaluation might be flawed I can, and should, pray for guidance to move forward.

With thanksgiving… in every situation… I commit to giving my anxieties to God.

Widow’s Offering Mark 12:38 – 13:2

The widow’s offering stimulated one of my earliest reflections on scriptural guidance for thinking about evaluation. I saw Jesus observing the activity at the temple treasury demonstrating key features of evaluation work. See Widow’s Offering Mark 12:41-44

Recently I read Practicing Resurrection, Janet Wolf’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark. She points out that this brief story is situated between stern warnings about judgment that will be made on those who put more value on religiosity than on living righteously. I had not examined the larger context (Mark 12:38 – 13:2).

Evaluators, explore the larger context surrounding the evaluand. You may discover significant findings that otherwise will be overlooked.

References

Rice, Jim. “Where is Thy God?” November 8, 2009. Sojourners Preaching the Word [online]

Smith, Geoffrey. “A Closer Look At The Widow’s Offering: Mark 12:41-44,” 1997;2002. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Vol. 40, Page 27-36).

Wolf, Janet. Practicing Resurrection: The Gospel of Mark and Radical Discipleship, 2019. (Mission Study) United Methodist Women. Kindle Edition.

Widow’s Offering Mark 12:41-44

The parable about the widow’s offering illustrates several important aspects of evaluation that are consistent with following Jesus.

Jesus quietly watched people as they went about their normal activity. His observations did not disrupt people, nor cause them to act in unusual ways. Useful evaluation takes place on ordinary days, not just during special events.

Jesus understood the culture. He knew the ways of the people that allowed him to understand what he was seeing. The evaluator must have relevant experience within the community’s culture to understand the significance of observations and information.

Jesus chose a life-style activity to observe, an activity that provided information about people’s central values. For the religious folk, contributions to the temple treasury were related to the degree to which they trusted in God’s commitment to provide for their own needs. The evaluation should include observations of behavior related to core values, especially those that indicate love for God and neighbor in that culture. This can be very complex, but it is essential for the community development evaluator.

Jesus related one fact to another to describe a relationship. Evaluation works with patterns or relationships, not isolated facts. Jesus said that rich people put large amounts into the treasury, while the widow put in two small coins. Jesus did not describe the exact amounts for the rich people, because the comparison was not between the amounts given by the rich people and the widow. The important comparison was between the relative amounts that the rich and the widow had left over.

Jesus knew when not to be too precise. The strength of the conclusion in this situation does not depend on knowing the exact amounts that the rich put into the treasury. Quantitative analysis can be useful, but the appropriate precision is determined by the aim of the analysis. Avoid spending time collecting and analyzing information that is too precise.

Jesus interpreted what he saw by relating the observations to significant principles, and stating his conclusion. The widow had put more into the treasury than all the others, even though the actual amount was only two small coins. And he gave the evidence to support the conclusion: The others gave only a part of their wealth, while she gave everything she had to live on. A conclusion describes more than the facts you observe; it describes what the facts mean in relationship with each other.

In this parable Jesus made no recommendation. The disciples were left to ponder his conclusion, and to decide for themselves what they should do. Recommendations have a place in evaluation, but there is also a place for encouraging users of the results of an evaluation to think through recommendations for themselves.

Lord, I resolve to have the courage and humility to reconsider my understanding of evaluation regularly as I meditate on your teachings. Amen.

Transformation turns you inside out; outside in

Meditate on Ephesians 4:17-28

This is a message I spoke to community development staff in Uganda in November 1998.

As an evaluator I search for truth. As a facilitator I help others search for truth, accept truth, live by truth.

In searching for truth, you need to watch out for lies, especially clever lies. In the restaurant at Laston Hotel in Masaka there is a poster that says:

Pilsner Lager
Extra Strong
It’s got what you want

This poster tells a lie. A lie that is believed as true by many. Those who live by this lie cause harm and destruction to others and themselves. In my own family I have seen the harm and destruction that addiction to alcohol can cause. If this poster were to tell the truth, it might look like this:

Pilsner Lager
Extra Strong
If you want to cause harm and destruction to yourself and others,
It’s got what you want

Now hear the word of the Lord: Ephesians 4:17-28

Verse 28 describes the fundamental indicator for transformational development. The person who steals is to stop stealing. Not only that, the person is to produce useful things with his or her own hands, that he or she might share them with others. This is transformation, from stealing to gratify the self, to being productive on behalf of others.

This passage describes the key to planning development programs that are transformational, not just enhancements to living in the world. This passage describes the key to planning programs that will inspire hope for those who are in despair. It describes the key to bringing joy to those who are in very difficult circumstances. Transformational development is based on the truth as it is taught by Jesus.

To understand the truth that is in Jesus, we need to face the fact that each and every one of us in a sinner. As told in the early chapters of Genesis, we have inherited the tendency to act as if we are God rather than being a child of God. God, the omnipotent, loving Creator of all there is, was, and ever will be, allowed us the freedom to disobey, while longing deeply that we would not disobey. But we did, and so we are sinners.

The truth that is in Jesus is that God, through boundless grace, invites us as sinners to be in His presence as forgiven sinners. If we accept this invitation, if we turn our backs on the deceitful ways of the world, we can live in God’s emerging kingdom right now. Cleansed, purified, made new in attitudes of mind, free to put on a new self, free to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Free to stop stealing, free to work with our hands to make something useful so that we can share it with others. Free to turn inside out and outside in, free to say “no” to the lies all around us, free to live by the truth that is in Jesus

Am I a Captious Evaluator?

I came across the word “captious” today. I did not know this word, so I looked for definitions. It is used in two ways: (1) trivial fault-finding; (2) intended to provoke argument. I thought about applying these notions to evaluation practice.

A captious evaluation report is focused on stating every flaw in the evaluand, no matter how trivial. Reading the report raises questions about the evaluator’s capacity to be objective. Can this evaluator see anything good, or is he programmed to only see flaws?

In a captious conversation statements are made to provoke arguing rather than discussing or dialoging. Person A: “it’s not practical to have community members participate in planning this evaluation.” Person B: “In what way is it not practical?” Person A: “It just isn’t.” Person B: “Have you been in an evaluation where there was community participation?” Person A: “No, because I’m a practical evaluator.” Person A is making captious statements rather than engaging in a constructive conversation.

I wonder how often I have acted as a captious evaluator.

Becoming Aware of God’s Handiwork

Ephesians 2:10

For we are God’s handiwork [or workmanship], created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. NIV

My personal reflection (01/14/2017)

In 1965 I was drawn to program evaluation work by complex circumstances; at the time I envisioned myself as a researcher/scholar in the field of cognitive psychology. I applied my research skills to a few small evaluation tasks, but did not see myself as an evaluator.

There was a 15-year period between my initial work and accepting a position where I had major responsibility for evaluation. In that period I experienced a clear calling to serve the poor as a Christian. I knew in my heart that God had prepared me to be his servant; I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior; I did effective work in community development outside my research training. During that period I did one program evaluation and one year of institutional research at a community college; otherwise I saw myself as a facilitator of community development through the church.

Twenty years after my first evaluation exercise I was called to serve as an evaluator in a Christian relief and development organization. It took me months of prayer and consultation with my wife to say yes, for it meant giving up my vision of being a university researcher/scholar. For thirty years since that “yes” I have experienced being guided by the Holy Spirit in facilitating evaluation exercises of community development programs. For the past twenty years I have been guided by the Spirit and my spiritual disciplines in developing the theory and practice of what I call Transformative Evaluation (TE).

I humbly see myself as God’s handiwork, poetic workmanship, through guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit fulfilling, with many defects in attitudes and behavior, the divine plan for my life. I am grateful beyond words for God’s love, grace and mercy to be loving God and neighbor through developing TE.

Another kind of handiwork (10/30/2017)

Several years ago my wife and I decided to make a cat bathroom in our house. We kept the cats indoors because occasionally a coyote would come into our neighborhood and prey upon small pets. I put linoleum on an unused closet floor for the litter pans. I tried to replace the molding so that it looked like it was done by a good carpenter, because I am not a good carpenter. I used a miter box to saw the ends; I drilled starter holes for the nails so that they were spaced evenly; I used a nail set and then spackled the nail heads; finally, I carefully painted the molding so that you could not see where it was fastened to the wall.

I did this as a spiritual exercise. No one will see it, except the cats and us when we change the litter. And God, who created me to do good works… not as a carpenter, but as a husband to do chores in a way that gives my wife pleasure. I am not a carpenter, but I can do small projects that cause someone to smile. I wonder what other good works God has prepared in advance for me to do?

Your personal reflection

I invite you to prayerfully reflect on your understanding of God’s handiwork in you, being open to prompting from the Holy Spirit.

Fear Not When The Lord Is Your Helper

Hebrews 13:5-6; Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon commentary

Hebrews 13:5. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

 CHS… You have a grand reserve, therefore. What you have in possession is only a little spending money to use on the road to heaven, but “he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” You may confidently fall back upon the providence of God in all times of straitness and need [dire straits = a very bad situation that is difficult to fix].

 Hebrews 13:6. So that we may boldly [confidently] say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.

FGC… Confidence emerges from beliefs held strongly. The strong belief here is that taking risks to do the will of the Lord may lead to consequences that will be difficult to endure. The Lord will be with me, not to lessen the severity of the situation, but to assure me that doing the right thing matters. Following the will of God for my life is more important than anything else.

 If I believe through prayerful discernment that the will of God for me is to promote transformative evaluation in agencies that partner with marginalized groups to transform lives and society in the biblical sense; then I can count on the Holy Spirit to sustain me regardless of what others say about my work. I can learn from what they say. I can continue lovingly with my witness with bold humility, with or without their support, strongly believing that God will use my work for future good. Glory be to God!

This Evaluation Stinks!

The program manager was reading the evaluation report when he exclaimed, “This evaluation stinks!” The evidence showed little or no progress for most of the program objectives. There were numerous recommendations for improving the chances for accomplishing the objectives, but the cost would be high. The report was bad news for the manager, and he reacted defensively by lashing out at the evaluation.

A similar program was evaluated in a different setting. The results for achieving objectives were similar, but the evaluator had used a transformative approach. Throughout the exercise the manager had participated in several sessions of reflecting on relevant passages of scripture with the evaluator and other stakeholders. And data had been collected and analyzed on program alignment with the agency mission; the evidence showed good alignment.

Before she shared the report with manager and others, they reflected on 2 Corinthians 2:14-17. They spent time discussing savoring the fragrance when Christ was present, and how people could decide to be triumphant in their situation or to be defiant. People could accept bad news in the eyes of the world as good news in the kingdom. Or not.

The manager read the report and commented first on the results for alignment. “I feel like we are living near a fragrant field of flowers, but our land where we are working has a lot of weeds choking the “crops” we have planted. The achievements are disappointing, but the nearby fragrance is encouraging. We need to prayerfully re-examine our objectives and how we using our resources, rejoicing in the promised triumph that comes when we are faithful.”

The evaluation approach and the reporting style can be a ministry of death or a ministry of life. Work towards an evaluation exercise that offers life going forward, not by obscuring worldly failure, but by facilitating awareness of the fragrance of Christ that transforms attitudes toward worldly failure. Praise God for revealing wisdom in scripture that surpasses worldly wisdom.

Things Seen and Unseen

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Evaluation is designed to fix our eyes on what is seen by qualified observers. Can this verse that emphasizes the superiority of the unseen have any application in TE?

It is tempting to use this verse to justify the use of constructivist approaches to evaluation that acknowledge the importance of unseen personal perspectives along with things that are seen. But there is a much more important application; the need for discernment in the TE process. Discerning the will of God, as revealed while participating in the evaluation exercise, is one of the consequences of viewing evaluation through the lens of a Christian worldview.

“There are unseen things, as well as things that are seen. And there is this vast difference between them; unseen things are eternal, seen things but temporal, or temporary only. Let us then look off from the things which are seen; let us cease to seek for worldly advantages, or to fear present distresses. Let us give diligence to make our future happiness sure.” (Matthew Henry commentary)

Short-term results based on what is seen is the typical outcome of most evaluations. Recommendations for going forward with the evaluated program are based on those results. In TE such recommendations should emerge from discernment as evaluators and stakeholders reflect on what really matters in community development. Describe recommendations for program improvement, recommendations for better alignment between program and mission, and provocative propositions regarding a better future from an eternal glory perspective.