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Robert Lahey, FCES

May 2015

One new fellow has joined the ranks of the Canadian Evaluation Society Fellowship.

Mr. Robert Lahey. Here is a transcript of his introduction and acceptance speech.

Introduction speech by Kaireen Chaytor

I am indeed honoured to present to you our nominee for fellowship – Mr. Robert (Bob) Lahey.

A few years ago when a nominee was being presented the phrase was used – “I was surprised only to learn the nominee had not already been nominated. That applied then and applies today. Our nominee today is most worthy.

Bob comes to us from positions responsible for program evaluation in the Federal Government from the time of his graduation from Carleton University. He served with the Canada Employment and Immigration Commission, Consumer and Corporate Affairs Canada, The Postal Services Review Committee, Forestry Canada and the Public Service Commission of Canada.

He was sought out by the Treasury Board Secretariat to be the first Executive Director for the Centre of Excellence for Evaluation (CEE).

While serving as Executive Director of CEE Bob made a concerted effort to advance the message of public sector evaluation. For instance, he accepted invitations to visit Dalhousie University and speak with students in the School of Public Administration. His message and his engagement were very meaningful for students. He spoke often to our program evaluation class and did a wonderful job summarizing the ‘evaluation picture’ of Canada. Students in the class this past summer remarked “I did not realize Canada had this strength in evaluation”. Bob has kindly given of his time to classes in several Universities.

In 1995, Bob was recognized by the CES for ‘Contribution to the ongoing development of Excellence in the field of Evaluation’, as a member of the NCC team that developed and delivered the original ‘Essential Skills Series of Workshops’ on ‘Understanding Evaluation’. In 2004, he was recognized with the ‘Contribution to Evaluation in Canada’ award.

Bob has supported the Canadian Evaluation Society – probably since its inception. In addition to two stints on the board of the National Capital Chapter, he has contributed to the national conferences. He has annually organized a panel on leading edge topics. At the end of the 2014 conference, he felt an omission in the presentation on Canada’s contribution to the world and immediately noted he would pick that topic up with a panel in 2015.

Bob is also active in conferences outside of Canada. He presents regularly at meetings of the American Evaluation Association, the European Evaluation Society and the International Development Evaluation Association (IDEAS), where he is a life member – again often organizing panel presentations on key topics of the day.

Bob has recently made a contribution through several publications. Of particular note is his work for the World Bank: The Canadian M&E System: Lessons Learned from 30 Years of Development. I recently used this document when teaching for University of Central Asia and participants found it to be a good explanation of Canada’s approach to evaluation. They were impressed with what Canada had accomplished.

Bob’s work since leaving TBS has focused largely on advising agencies in Canada and national governments abroad on the development and implementation of monitoring and evaluation systems. With a focus on practical approaches that are going to be sustainable, he has worked closely with countries around the world and developed framework documents published by both the World Bank and United Nations Evaluation group (UNEG). Canada will be well represented as Bob presents as our newest Fellow of the Canadian Evaluation Society.

Mr. President I present our nominee for fellowship.

Acceptance speech

Let me first say ‘thank you/merci’ to the CES for this special honour. I would especially like to express my thanks to Kaireen Chaytor and the others who put forward my name to become a CES Fellow. I am truly honoured, humbled and touched.

When I first told my wife about being named a CES Fellow, she was very pleased for me…and then asked what did it mean to be a ‘Fellow’? I had to admit that, besides the honour, I was not really sure. But I am happy to report that this year, those Fellows attending the conference are going to start a conversation that addresses that very point.

With that in mind, as a newly-minted Fellow, I would like to spend my few moments before you sharing what I think are critical factors in the development of an Evaluator. I aim my comments primarily at the many students here – Think of this as mentoring! This is not intended to be exhaustive and it is drawn from what I would refer to as a ‘rapid appraisal’ of my own career.

A starting point for me is to always try to draw ‘lessons’ from what we have experienced or observed, both the good and the bad – and then to store them away for future reference. If you think of your life as a journey of ‘continuous learning’, both professionally and personally, then taking the time to reflect on events close at hand and in the broader environment is an important part of that learning process.

Hounded by minutiae on a daily basis, we need to occasionally hit the ‘pause’ button and take the time to reflect on what is going on around us. As Evaluators we need to allow ourselves the time for ‘reflective moments’. When I was heading Evaluation units in federal departments, I introduced what I called a ‘Creative Pause’ session – one day a year intended to move us to a wider screen than the ‘busy-ness’ of day-to-day work often allows. I think that conferences offer great ‘creative pause’ opportunities.

My second point refers to Evaluator mobility, as a part of personal and professional development. I have always felt that the Evaluation skill set is quite portable, and that Evaluators should take advantage of that in their own development. While ‘communities of practice’ are important, I don’t think that it is healthy for the profession or the individual Evaluator to get siloed. I know that working across different areas as an Evaluator has helped develop my critical thinking skills. This is particularly important for public sector Evaluators, particularly if there is intent to engage in or influence policy. But, in doing this, it also means moving outside one’s comfort zone. I have done this a number of times in both my government and private sector careers. It is initially scary, but always quite exhilarating.

The last point I want to raise is the most important – family. I have always placed family as my top priority. In our busy world of being ‘Evaluators’, we need to ensure that ‘family’ never falls off the radar screen. What each of us needs to do is find the formula that works best for our individual situation. In my case, in years past, this might have found me reading an Evaluation Report in an arena where I was attending a speed skating meet in support of my youngest son. Or, coming home at 9:00 p.m. after coaching my two sons in T-ball, to start work on a briefing note that was due the next day. It’s about making choices in how we use our time, so that family and community are not neglected. It makes for a busy life, but one that is also rewarding. And, in the end, I truly believe that it contributes to making a better Evaluator.