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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at the 2015 American Evaluation Association conference

Well folks, the American Evaluation Association (AEA) Conference took place last week in Chicago and it did not disappoint! Truly a cornucopia with over 800 sessions and a huge number of prolific speakers. Whatever your area of work or expertise, you were sure to find a session which addressed your topic of interest.

So many choices, where do I begin!

Now that I am back in Amsterdam and recovered from the jetlag, I am putting pen to paper (or rather fingers to the keyboard) to give you my highlights and low points from the AEA conference.


  1. True to the theme of "Exemplary Evaluations in a Multicultural World", there was a plethora of sessions on culturally responsive and gender-responsive evaluations. The Opening Ceremony also saw a procession by the First Nations that was simply awe-inspiring.

Scene from the Opening Ceremony

2. Developmental Evaluation was trending at the event with a large number of sessions dedicated to this topic. Coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidental), the latest book by Michael Quinn Patton, Kate McKegg and Nan Wehipeihana entitled ‘Developmental Evaluation Exemplars: Principles in Practice’, was a major hit at the conference. I estimate that this may have very well been the bestselling publication at the event.

Hot off the Press! Go grab your copy

3. Another trending topic at the conference was ‘complexity aware monitoring and evaluation’. USAID also gave presentations on the results of several pilots using evaluation techniques such as Most Significant Change and Outcomes Harvesting. These trial pilots were quietly undertaken and the results were only recently disseminated to a wider audience.

The secret about complexity aware monitoring and evaluation is already out

4. There may be gradual shift towards accreditation within the evaluation community. The Canadian Evaluation Society (CES) announced their Professional Designated Programme. The CES Credentialed Evaluator (CE) designation is designed to support professionalization by defining, recognizing and promoting the practice of competent evaluation.

The AEA has not progressed as far as the CES, however, they do have Guiding Principles and standards for professionals in the field of evaluation. Every evaluator should keep a close eye on this emerging trend as it has implications for our careers and practice.

Stamp of Approval


Attendance to the AEA Conference felt like on being on the TV programme ‘Survivor”. It seemed as though the organisers were keen on testing participants' endurance, stamina and navigational abilities.

Each day the first sessions started at 7:00h and the last sessions were at around 20:30h! The rationale for these long hours was for the accommodation of at least 200 sessions a day. Oh, I should also mention that these sessions took place concurrently. So in order to attend interesting sessions that were being held at the same time, you would have to either clone yourself or attend the conference with a team of at least 20 persons. It was quite a feat to stay awake, focused and concentrate on all the sessions over the four days.

"Ok, clone #1, you attend the session on qualitative methods, clone #2 you take the evaluation design session"

Additionally, you had to be in top physical condition with the proper footwear to run from one session to the next. The conference rooms were spread across multiple buildings, on multiple floors and reminded me of a labyrinth. It really felt like being a mouse in a maze; you needed a Global Positioning System (GPS) to find the conference rooms with ease.

Try to get to the next session in 15 minutes, I dare you!

Poor soul who perished trying to find a break out room at the conference

If you endured a full day from 7:00h, had the stamina to run to all the sessions and the navigational skills to find all the break out rooms, then you deserved the title of being an “AEA Conference Survivor". Your prize is a complimentary copy of one of the many publications that were ubiquitous at the event.

AEA Conference Survivor

Anyhow, despite all of the foregoing, I had a great experience. The conference was superbly organized with an excellent registration process and great on-site assistance. High commendation for the organisers and I am already looking forward to the event in Atlanta next year.

Members of the AEA may access PowerPoint presentations from the conference at the ‘AEA Public Library’ Section on the AEA website. You have to login.

Special shout out to Ventura Mufume, Elsa Bailey, Grazina Raguckaja, Karen Debrot, Kaphetsa Boniface Kalanda and Cassandra Jessee. Hope to see you all at the AEA conference next year.

Please share your own experiences at the AEA conference in the 'Comments Section' below.

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​​​Ann-Murray Brown

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