How a consultant is rethinking their practice

Vancouver-based evaluation consultant Ciaran Camman had long felt something was missing in their work. Like many evaluators, Ciaran learned much of their profession on the job as they worked over the years on a number of projects, ranging from mental health and addictions to immigration and disability services.

“Somehow it wasn’t totally coming together for me,” Ciaran explains—until they discovered SFU’s Evaluation for Social Change and Transformational Learning Certificate. Thanks to the program, they’re now working to rethink and reshape their own practice to create deeper social impact.

For Ciaran, the learning process continues, even after finishing the program in 2020: “Sometimes it feels like I’ve been doing this a long time, but sometimes it feels like I’m just getting started. I’ve had to learn—and unlearn—and change so much recently.”

Their traditional social science training hadn’t fully prepared them for the kind of work they wanted to do, adds Ciaran. “It gave me one way of looking at the world, one type of methodology: it’s very positivist, very rational, and very white and Western.”

When they came across SFU’s program, that missing puzzle piece slipped into place. “It was so fantastic,” Ciaran says of their experience in the first course. “It lived up to that transformative promise.”

They left the course feeling galvanized and determined to complete the rest of the program. “I hadn’t been accessing everything that was possible or thinking about things in different ways,” recalls Ciaran. “But now I felt a commitment to really transform my own practice.”

The learning helped Ciaran transition towards participatory methods, and away from thinking of themselves as an outsider who comes in to tell clients what they’re about and what they should do, and towards being a partner supporting people on a learning journey that is about recognizing and developing their inherent capacity.

“I have a strong belief about evaluation as an essential human practice,” explains Ciaran. “So, now it’s about really working with people and working through those questions of how do we assign value to this, what does value mean to us in this context? We quickly get into these deep existential questions.”

During the program, Ciaran found plenty of opportunity for self-reflection. For their capstone project, they even mapped their own journey as an evaluator. “I was surprised by what I learned about myself and how I approach my practice,” they recall. “The program surfaced some of those unconscious assumptions about my role, how I do things, what is evaluation and what is it for. It really stimulated some of that thinking for me.”

If other evaluators are wondering whether the SFU program can do the same for them, Ciaran offers this reassurance: “If you don’t come from a traditional evaluation background, this is a really great place to start an evaluation education.

“And if you do come with more experience—like I had—it’s still a really great place to start an evaluation education.”

By Kim Mah