A note from Michael Scriven…
This fund (3F hereafter) has been established to facilitate and accelerate the development of the theory, practice, and profession of evaluation. It is based on the belief that explicit attention to critical study of the methodology and foundations of a discipline and its applications—especially in the case of an emerging or radically changing discipline—can avoid many dead ends in its development, and nurture valuable new perspectives. These improvements are not merely academic refinements, because the whole operation of society depends critically on the careful identification and demonstration of the success or failure of its efforts at improvement and its response to crises, i.e., on ethical professional evaluation. Funding from 3F will be allocated in a way that significantly weights social payoffs from evaluation for those in need, including unconventional needs for which a case can be made.
Evaluation itself had to spend fifty years to achieve a moderate degree of legitimacy after its discard, at the beginning of the twentieth century, into the trash heap of scientifically untouchable topics, a rejection based on a superficial critique of evaluation by the positivists. That indefensible blunder meant that many, perhaps most, social scientists turned their back on full frontal attacks on the great problems faced by our global society, a decision which almost certainly cost us all dearly. 3F is an attempt to reduce the chances of similar mistakes and similar costs. Its modest resources will be devoted to supporting proposals for new approaches to the task of extending the domain of rational scientific efforts at objective analysis of evaluative issues at either the applied or theoretical level, including methodological or foundational issues.
In this effort, 3F’s aim is to generate the development of new perspectives on and applications of evaluation, with some preference to ‘out of the box’ or ‘long shot’ proposals that are likely to find funding hard to get from the usual sources because of their departure from the current research paradigms and/or their relatively low chances of success. Comments, from a number of Nobelers amongst others, have supported the need for this kind of approach as filling a gap in the current research funding portfolio across all research disciplines, reaching far beyond the sciences, e.g., into jurisprudence, technology, mathematics, history, literature, and the classical arts.
3F is legally set up as a Donor Advised Fund under the umbrella of the Marin Community Foundation, the third largest community foundation in the US (it is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization, in US legal terminology). That management and funding is set up to continue in perpetuity, subject to the continued agreement of the Advisory Committee.
The purpose of this Fund is to advance the practice, profession, and social contribution of evaluation by providing financial resources to support certain approaches within the evaluation field as follows:
- To develop ideas—which might mean concepts, methods, meetings, publications, symposia, or organizations—that show promise for significantly accelerating (not merely advancing) the theory or practice of evaluation, either overall, in one or more of its sub-fields (e.g., product evaluation, personnel evaluation, program evaluation, intradisciplinary evaluation), or in one or more of its application areas (e.g., education, health, international aid, technology R&D). For example, what is sometimes called opening up a new field for evaluation research, or a design for a product evaluation application could qualify. While the American Evaluation Association continues to provide an excellent and indispensable infrastructure for the profession, it has very limited resources for funding research, and none earmarked for efforts of the type described in 2 and 3 below.
- To give particular support to efforts that are not part of the natural development of well-accepted paradigms or models.This means giving strong preference to highly original, revolutionary, maverick, ‘new paradigm’ or ‘out of the box’ ideas that are often dismissed as long-shots (i.e., as having very low probability of success), or as having exaggerated probable impact by those reviewing funding requests submitted through the normal channels of existing foundations or agencies. This focus is an attempt to take seriously the implications of the common remark by Nobel laureates that the main flaw they see in standard scientific funding is the (natural) reluctance of the system to back revolutionary but long-shot proposals when doing so would deprive deserving and less risky proposals of support, an approach that cuts down the net yield of and from breakthrough ideas (‘moonshots’ in current tech jargon). The 3F effort is designed to support cases of work that qualify as suggesting a new paradigm rather than merely being within a paradigm—even if they qualify as clearly representing thought-leadership within a paradigm. The Fund should have no reluctance about spending nothing in a year when nothing clearly qualifies under this dimension, since the money will simply increase the amount available in later years.
- To give special weighting in evaluating proposals to those whose development shows signs of substantially benefiting people or peoples, in the U.S. or elsewhere, with serious unmet needs, whether physical, social, economic, educational, or political in other ways. This would include many indigenous people overseas as well as within the US, and would also cover less highly publicized needs such as those of children whose education is so constrained by implicit or explicit censorship or content restrictions as to render them seriously ill-prepared for dealing with ideas that are seen as radical, controversial, or subversive, where careful evaluation is crucial in avoiding erroneous beliefs and actions. Although absence of a significant level of such payoffs is not a fatal flaw, absence of serious discussion of this dimension in making the case for a particular proposal is fatal. In other words, this dimension of merit must be considered by the applicant and could often be the deciding factor in choosing an applicant for support.
NOTE ON AMERICAN EVALUATION ASSOCIATION
The 3F approach is intended to be, and should be seen as, simply complementary to the great efforts made by the American Evaluation Association, which covers a vast range of support for professional evaluation members and their needs, including an excellent system of honorary awards for research and service. Our intent is more narrowly focused, specifically: (i) to generate new research rather than reward completed research; (ii) to focus on a certain sub-area of research (normative meta-research), which is just a small although crucial part of the big field of research on evaluation itself; (iii) to facilitate the emergence of new or massively transformed paradigms, critiques, and practices, rather than the mere refinement of existing ones, even excellent ones; and (iv) to emphasize continued consideration of the potential social benefits of refining evaluation theory, practice, and methodology.
Evaluators should practice what they preach, and there are good reasons for that practice, so we welcome suggestions for improving this fund or its presuppositions. Send them to our email: FasterForwardFund@gmail.com with the subject: Suggestions.