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Elizabeth Whitmore

Winner, Award for Contribution to Evaluation in Canada, 2015

Excerpt of nomination letter (by Brad Cousins)

It is my great pleasure to write on behalf of Elizabeth (Bessa) Whitmore's nomination for the 2015 'Contribution to Evaluation in Canada' award. I can only conclude that Dr. Whitmore (Professor Emerita, Carleton University) is a highly deserving candidate for this prestigious award.

Professor Whitmore is one of the few Canadians profiled in the Encyclopedia of Evaluation (Sage, 2005) and is recognized in Canada and internationally as a long-time contributor to the advancement of pluralism and diversity in our field. It is no small wonder that in my advanced course in Program Evaluation: Theory and Contemporary Issues, Professor Whitmore is routinely selected by students for a scholar profile assignment. [...]

In addition to her conceptual contributions, Professor Whitmore continues to engage in evaluation practice. An excellent example is her involvement in a participatory evaluation of a street involved youth drop-in centre in Ottawa. The work required connecting with an alienated and distrustful population while at the same time maintaining methodological quality, consistency, and professional integrity. Professor Whitmore has presented about the processes and outcomes of this project on several occasions, demonstrating its impact on local policy and practice, not to mention the youth with whom she worked. [...]

With little question Professor Whitmore's contributions, at the levels of theory, research and practice, have had considerable impact within Canada and internationally and she continues to inspire many members of our evaluation community. I do believe her to be an exceptional candidate for the CES 'Contribution to Evaluation in Canada' award.

Acceptance speech

Thanks first to Ted Jackson and his fellow conspirators for nominating me. They are: Brad Cousins, Lyn Shuhla, Budd Hall, Geri Briggs, Diana Majury, Karen Schwartz, Hind Al Hadib, and Nathalie Gilbert. It was quite a surprise, and of course an incredible honour.

I have a few thoughts to share about evaluation and the roles it can play.

I’ll start with Patton’s 3 lies:

  1. This hurts me more than you
  2. I will still respect you in the morning
  3. Hello, I’m an evaluator, I’m here to help you.

I want to challenge that last lie.

In a recent evaluation project, I (along with 2 colleagues) approached 9 "activist" groups and organizations across Canada with an offer to work with them in thinking about the question: How do you know you are making a difference? What does 'success' mean to you? (In evaluation-speak, what is your impact?)

They actually welcomed the chance to step back and reflect on these questions – something they rarely have the time or opportunity to do. In this age of cutbacks and cellphones (going ever faster and faster), taking time to really reflect on what we are doing becomes a luxury.

A quote from one participant illustrates this: "What it’s done is to make people start getting into reflective practice. And there’s a hunger for that..."

So evaluation can be one way to offer people the opportunity to reflect.

And that’s no lie.