Creativity is Essential For a Just and Equitable World

At Inspire to Change treat creativity as absolutely critical to learning-oriented changemaking generally, evaluation practice specifically. Michael Quinn Patton, a leader in the field of evaluation wrote Creative Evaluation in 1981. His words ring true today, more than forty years later:

“Every evaluation situation is unique. A successful evaluation (one that is useful, practical, ethical, and accurate) emerges from the special characteristics and conditions of a particular situation–a mixture of people, politics, history, context, resources, constraints, values, needs, interests, and chance. Despite the rather common-sensible nature of these observations, there are a host of subtleties and nuances implicit in this shift in perspective–a shift from evaluation judged by a single, standard, and universal criterion (methodological rigor) to situational evaluation where decision criteria are multiple, flexible, and diverse. This shift in perspective places new demands on evaluators.

Creativity is essential to situational responsiveness. If one is being genuinely active, reactive, and adaptive in responding to the special and unique people, circumstances, and factors in any particular evaluation, one cannot simply borrow an old design and make it fit this unique, new situation. Each evaluation situation becomes unique, and leads to a unique evaluation creation.”

TEN STRATEGIES EVERYONE CAN DO

If you agree with this, what can you do to increase your capacity for creativity and facilitating creative evaluations? Here are ten strategies everyone can do:

  1. Recognize your discontent. Don’t hide it away. Meet your discontent as a source of inspiration and creativity. This requires that we learn to sit with and move through discomfort.

If you can be in revolt while you are young, and as you grow older keep your discontent alive with the vitality of joy and great affection, then that flame of discontent will have an extraordinary significance because it will build, it will create, it will bring new things into being. — jiddu krishnamurti, 1964

2. See your creative impulse as a way to share your unique gifts with the world. We believe that each of us has unique gifts to discover and share in this lifetime. Share these without fear of judgment and rejection. We need you to be fearless.

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. ― Martha Graham, 1991

3. Believe in and nurture your own creative capacity. Many people tell us, “I’m not an artist,” or “I’m turned off by your use of the word creative.” But we can learn to see, value, and expand our creative potential, even when it is uncomfortable.

If you believe that creativity is innate and somehow embedded in the genes, and all you need to do is to test whether you happen to have the “right“ genes–whether you’re one of the lucky (or unlucky) ones with creative potential. If, on the other hand, you believe that creativity is learned (that is, a function of the environment), then all you need to add to that axiomatic position when doing evaluation work is the logical corollary that you can learn to be more creative. You can come become more aware of, control, expand, and creatively adapt your own heuristics. — Michael Quinn Patton, 1991

4. Believe in and nurture the creative capacity of others. Similarly, we need to believe in the value of the creative potential in others. We also need to believe that creativity is appropriate and essential in “professional” settings, even when we receive pushback against this belief.

“Your belief about the creative potential of people can affect your skill and effectiveness in working with others. It is pretty difficult to lead a group of people through an evaluation process aimed at stimulating and releasing their creativity if you don’t believe they have any creative potential to release. Like the canine’s instinctive ability to sense fear in human beings, decision-makers and information users have a sixth sense that tells them when they’re being conned. — Michael Quinn Patton, 1991

5. Invest in creativity for creativity’s sake. Our profession loves SMART goals and measurable outcomes. We need to invest in creativity even though we don’t know where it will lead, so we can co-create an inspiring and compelling vision.

We must recognize and nurture the creative parts of each other without always understanding what will be created. — Audre Lorde, Unknown Source

6. Invest in creativity to imagine beyond our current realities. We need time, as adults, to play “make-believe” so we can imagine something better and practice what it would be like to live in this world.

For us to create a living, embodied antiracist culture, however, we must rely on truth — so we shouldn’t dabble in falsehoods braided into myth. But we can create a compelling vision of the future — one based on reality, and on human beings’ inborn ability to grow up. […] The process of creating this vision cannot be purely cognitive. It will need to arise from the interaction of multiple bodies — and from the energies of creation. — Resmaa Menakem, 2022

7. Keep creatively pushing the limits of our profession. We need to expand our idea of what counts as high-quality, relevant evaluation as we strive to make our profession relevant to the work of global transformations. At Inspire to Change, we do this by creating content and community that will, hopefully, further our commitment to creativity in the evaluation profession.

You cannot transform a domain unless you first thoroughly understand how it works. Which means that one has to acquire the tools of mathematics, learn the basic principles of physics, and become aware of the current state of knowledge. But the old Italian saying seems to apply: Impara l’arte, e mettila da parte (learn the craft, and then set it aside). One cannot be creative without learning what others know, but then one cannot be creative without becoming dissatisfied with that knowledge and rejecting it (or some of it) for a better way. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1996

8. Hire artists. While we believe in the creative potential of everyone, artists have invested time, sweat, and energy into developing their specific creative gifts. Partnering with artists will move us further, faster, to the places we want to go. At Inspire to Change, more than half of our staff has been trained as professional artists in one or more capacities.

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers. — James Baldwin, Unknown Source

9. Center creativity as essential to your wellbeing. While Western Culture often focuses on the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical aspects of wellbeing, we believe that we creativity is also vital to wellbeing. Creativity allows us to access a flow state that is otherwise unavailable to us.

We often view the work of social change as a fight, but I choose to see it as a dance–an artistic, benevolent, defiant act of creativity and inspiration. Just when it seems that things are falling apart and all hope is lost, I imagine that old things are falling away and our job is to hold space for and nurture what replaces those things. That renews my hope, clears my mind, fuels my creativity and softens my heart. — Reggie Hubbard, 2022

10. Center creativity as essential to the wellbeing of humankind. What is good for the health of the individual is good for the health of humankind and all living things. As we found in our research report for the Wellbeing Project, wellbeing inspires welldoing. So let’s commit to see creative evaluation practice as noble, and as a way that we, as evaluators, can contribute to a more just and equitable world.

Creative Evaluation is noble. Beyond the contracts, the statistics, the EvalTalk debates, the tenure systems, the fallibility of our methods, the paradigms that limit our vision — behind the trappings of our discipline, we hear a noble calling. We listen. We keep faith. We believe. We work together to deliver on the promises of our discipline and profession. At stake is the potential for social change initiatives to benefit from learning. At stake is the quality of the lives of our fellow human beings. At stake is a more just and equitable world. — A. Rafael Johnson, Nora Murphy Johnson, and Michael Quinn Patton, 2022

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