When 1+1=3

Thank you for joining us for the July reflection from Tiffany Tovey:

Rory Neuner reflected in our last podcast episode, “It’s a good idea to remind ourselves that we’re all working really for the same end goals.” As evaluators in this society, we are more often than not being brought into programs and organizations that have as their goal some sort of human development or improvement efforts. We are serving the public good; community. What we come up against in these spaces in particular is that we are also bound up by the system and by our need to check the appropriate boxes. This metric is needed for further funding. These beans need counting so that our funder understands that we had the right amount of beans. Whatever those are.

All of this seems to point to a lack of true communication and collaboration; genuine engagement in dialogue for the cause, for learning, and for deciding how to move forward on the basis of what we’ve learned.

“Collaboration means that people labor together in order to construct something that did not exist before the collaboration, something that does not and cannot fully exist in the lives of individual collaborators… We like to think of this result as 1 + 1 = 3. To say that 1 + 1 = 3 not only means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but it also means that the result is something other than the parts.”

(Peters & Armstrong, 1998, p. 75)

I see the role of the evaluator as to both CREATE & FACILITATE space for genuine collaborative reflective practice. For taking the collaborative learning process and truly embracing it. We are facilitators of the “hard” questions – What actually happened? What went well? What didn’t go so well? Where do we go next? How are we serving our community? How could we serve our community better? Who has power and who ought to have power? Hard questions, but the exact needed questions for us to make informed decisions for societal betterment. As is shared in the quote above, to engage in dialogue is to be invested and committed to collaborative processes that will bring us to a point that we could not have gotten to alone. It means that you bring knowledge and I bring knowledge, and our intentional engagement together will move us into transformation. But that requires intention.

Intention to truly learn from our experiences – to take the mirror to our work (as both evaluators and program operators), see what is in that mirror, and act accordingly. We as evaluators need to push back, as Rory alluded to in our podcast episode last month, on decisions, processes, and policies that are not built for the needed changes to occur. The only way to do that is to intentionally facilitate dialogic relationships with those we work with, truly understanding and collaborating to create something more; doing the good math to get 1 plus 1 to truly equal 3.

We’d love it if you reflected with us on these questions:

What conversations do we as evaluators need to envision and enact in order to move us forward toward a learning-focused system, as opposed to an accountability-focused system? With whom do we engage? How can we embed the reflective practice process into our evaluation work such that people are willing and excited for growth and transformation?


Watch for our podcast later this month with a guest who will reflect on these prompts with us. We would LOVE to hear your thoughts. Leave them here on the blog or tweet at us!

2 thoughts on “When 1+1=3

  1. I used to use the concept of “1+1=3” to discuss how people have varying sources of information, and do not always communicate it. If someone says “1+1=3” but is not saying they are considering the figures of “1.53+1.76=3” then they are not sharing the full numbers. I think this becomes challenging in evaluation, however, because I have also heard it argued that there are indeed objective realities, and someone who argues “1+1=3” where that is blatantly wrong then them not sharing their full information is leading to incorrect framing of the problem, inaccurate information, or are holding things back for various reasons that do not follow common protocols.

    I think the example misses the opportunity for a further analysis of contributing factors within collaboration, as well as complications that present themselves within collaboration itself. I think another factor is that people who are forced into a collaborative setting – are they truly EVER collaborating? Group projects can often become miserable because individuals in a group, particularly in academic projects, have varying levels of skill, agendas, and interest that end up making what is imagined to be collaborative into experiences that put more pressure on a small number of the group instead of spread throughout. So one of those “1”s might be a 0.23 and the other is a 2.91.

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