The EES Professionalization Agenda: Myths and Realities

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There is no ‘immaculate conception’ in the birth of a profession.  Professionalization is driven by the collective exertions of a cohesive occupational group competing in the public arena. Thus, medicine triumphed over homeopathy. Psychiatry took over the terrain of personal relationships previously occupied by the clergy. Accountants fought their way from book keeping and cost accounting to management advisory services. Evaluation, a discipline in its own right, is currently moving forward towards professionalization under the aegis of the International Year of Evaluation.

What does professionalization require? The history of the professions makes clear that expert knowledge, mastery of skills and ethical dispositions (capabilities) must be combined with collective control over designation and compliance with behavioural norms (self management) to rise to the top of the occupational ladder. Specifically, professionalization requires collective actions that promote:

  • Demonstrated expertise and judgment that flow from access to high quality tertiary education; extended exposure to practice; theoretical knowledge; mastery of techniques; etc.
  • Ethical dispositions which implies assuming responsibility for the quality of one’s work, orientation to the public interest; loyalty to the group; collegial behaviour, compliance with professional guidelines and principles
  • Professional autonomy i.e. self management of the occupation: collective controls over designation, behavioural standards, quality assurance criteria buttressed by control mechanisms and disciplinary processes

While professionalization is not the same as credentialing, evaluator designation straddles all three dimensions of professionalization. It is a privileged instrument in the contest for public recognition of professional status. On its own it does not guarantee success in the professionalization race. Psychics while credentialed are still scam artists. On the other hand, legitimate processes that demonstrate that an individual has acquired the knowledge, practice skills and dispositions needed to carry out work to an adequate standard of quality are highly valued by employers.

EES has embraced its responsibilities towards professionalization. It is setting up a thematic working group for training and exploring a European Evaluation Excellence Award process. It has approved an evaluation capabilities framework based on two surveys conducted by the Society. Aware that credentialing based on testing has evoked strong negative reactions and sensitive to the aspirations for inclusiveness, pluralism and equity of its membership, your Society, in partnership with the UK Evaluation Society, has developed a Voluntary Evaluator Peer Review concept currently at the stage of detailed design for a pilot project.

The VEPR initiative does not seek to displace evaluator qualification or certification schemes set up by other organizations or associations.  It is grounded in the concept of self-directed learning and provides an additional stamp of competence combined with guidance focused on individual improvement.  It does not seek to meet rigid prerequisites of practice. It is not a test- something that the applicant might ‘pass’ or ‘fail’.

The VEPR is specifically focused on self-reflection and designed to support applicants to explore their current practice, focusing on skills areas that they want to develop, through a structured discussion with peers they respect. It facilitates regular and personalized professional development and it helps to identify capacity and capability gaps for individuals and across the profession at large. The initiative will move evaluation forward on the path to professionalization. When the time comes, please volunteer to test the concept and improve its design!

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