Ok folks - I’m going to make a confession. I gave up. Yes, you heard it here first, I listened to the critics and tossed my hands up in the air and gave up. And then a few things happened in my life to change that - I got a dog, changed jobs, among other things. The most recent thing to affect me was of all things, a movie. What many of you don’t know is that I’m not so secretly a fan of Disney and when the movie Tomorrowland was announced - well, I had to see it. It wasn’t because of the actors or the storyline that made me want to see it. It was the name and the fact that it coincided with the name of my favorite place at Disneyland and Walt Disney World - Tomorrowland - a place where my dreams of the future were realized. I was into space, rockets, and science as a kid and this was a place that embodied it. So, the opportunity to glimpse how someone would imagine that place, inhabited, was the draw. And so I went…
Well, before I went, I read the prequel to the movie - Before Tomorrowland and I enjoyed it. It was a simple read, the storyline was simple too - but it tugged a string inside of me. I’m not going to spoil either the movie or the book for you, but suffice to say, there are people in both stories that haven’t given up. But it wasn’t just the book and movie that affected me, it was the movie reviews - both negative and positive. While there were the standard comments about acting, cinematography, plot and the like - what caught my attention were reactions to the “message” of the movie. Some key words:
- Wishful thinking
- Hope for humanity
Or my favorite quote from Rolling Stone - “No cynicism, no snark! What! In box-office terms, that usually translates into no chance. Yes Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, a noble failure about trying to succeed, is written and directed with such open-hearted optimism that you cheer it on even as it stumbles.” - http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/tomorrowland-20150520
The story arc in the movie is that we (all of us) have pretty much given up. We look at the world around us and have finally given in to entropy, assumed that there is nothing we can do. Ouch! But there were the reviews - some of them reflecting the cynicism, many snarky. There were those that pulled their own beliefs around global warming into their reviews, claiming that the movie was a shill for those promoting it as an issue (note - there is evidence of flooding in the movie and perhaps global warming was in the lines), but they missed the point of the movie - that we can do something about it, that we can do something about pretty much anything if we just work together to accomplish it.
To give you context, I’m going to tell you more about me. I grew up in Los Angeles (a city in California which is a state in the United States). My dad was a rocket scientist - ok, really he was a physicist, but he worked on systems that few aboard rockets (among other things). My formative years were in the 1970s and 19080s. Back then, we had landed on the moon, sent probes around other planets, and atomic energy still had some promise. Perhaps not as grand as the idealized view we now have of promise in the States from the 1950s, people had not given up yet. The thought was that science could still affect positive change.
Flash forward to today… We have a movie that actually uses the loss of that vision as a plot hook. It exists because it is something we can all relate to. It is a plot that wouldn’t have worked back in 1950, back then folks were actually considering using nuclear bombs for construction purposes and to deal with hurricanes, taraforming other planets, and other things that we now look at with some scoff. Hope, wishful thoughts have been replaced by cynicism and snark.
And so I ask you - have you given up? I did! I was filled with these emotions. I was tired of hearing how change could happen for it couldn’t could it?...
I won’t shill for Disney and suggest you go see the movie (I did like it though), but I would ask that you take a moment and think. Have you slipped into the view of cynicism? Do you find those around you who may still be fighting to improve things, preachy? Why is that?
Ok - so how does this relate to evaluation? What? You didn’t think I wouldn’t talk about evaluation this time did you? I am the Evangelist after all! ;-)
My mentor and advisor at Claremont Graduate University, Stewart Donaldson, has written on Evaluation Anxiety and practicing evaluators often deal with the issue. In essence, those who are potential affected by the evaluation become anxious and fearful - they fear their program will be cut, their positions cut, their support cut. I see much of this tied to the cynicism I remarked about above. Someone has given evaluators a bad name - look to my previous blog post addressing it if you would like to see where the fingers might point - but many look at evaluators as either there to demonstrate their product is good (marketing) or to do the exact opposite. This focus on value has been present for some time. However, evaluators aren’t interested in demonstrating or destroying, they are interested in helping - or should be.
And so, I specifically ask the evaluators reading this - have you succumbed to cynicism? Are you really trying to help or just providing value statements or providing more than that?
How about you consumers of evaluation? What are you using your evaluation-based information for?
Perhaps I’ve turned too preachy as well? ;-)
As always, I’m open to your comments, suggestions, questions, and perhaps dialogue. Please feel free to post in the comments section.
The Evaluation Evangelist