Hi everyone! A quick introduction, since I’m new here – my name is Brian Hoessler, I am an independent consultant based in Saskatoon, on Treaty 6 territory and the traditional homeland of the Métis, and I’m excited to be joining rethink urban. My primary skillset is in program evaluation, which may bring up a question for you – what’s an evaluator doing in a group focused on community safety and well-being and practices such as placemaking, engagement, and creative change that help support and improve city-life?
For me personally, I have long been interested in cities – the buildings, the systems supporting them (especially public transit!), and of course the people who live, work, visit, and play there. After growing up in Winnipeg and spending formative years in early adulthood in Toronto, I found a home in community psychology, a field that combines a broader perspective than traditional psychology with applied social research methods and a strong values base focused on empowerment. In completing my Masters degree in this field, I was able to explore how cities function and what can be done to support well-being and address social issues on a larger scale.
My education also introduced me to the practice of program evaluation, but it’s only been recently that I’ve recognized how evaluation brings a key perspective to the kind of work that Rethink Urban engages in. If you’re sceptical, I totally understand – especially if your experience with evaluation is limited to the count-everything-to-keep-the-funder-happy variety, or my personal (un)favourite game of find-the-flaws. My approach to evaluation dovetails more with how the Canadian Evaluation Society defines the practice:
“Evaluation is the systematic assessment of the design, implementation or results of an initiative for the purposes of learning or decision-making.”
While accountability is important, evaluation really shines when it contributes to learning and development. Evaluators help articulate both what ultimate success for a project or initiative looks like and useful signposts along the way to help understand if our assumptions were correct. For example, if we’re redesigning a park to improve usability for local residents, we can define what usability means in this context and identify methods to assess whether we’ve reached this goal, and if not, what can be done to bring us closer to that aim.
As an evaluator, I see myself as a pragmatic dreamer who walks alongside organizations and communities to help them understand what’s working, articulate what they want to see and bring data (both numbers and stories) to the table to inform conversations and decision-making. My approach is less about being an external “objective” observer who’s ready to pass judgment, and more about someone who walks alongside those working within community to create positive change.
Over the coming months I’ll be sharing more resources on evaluation, including some specific tools and approaches that can be useful (and easy to implement!) in placemaking, engagement, and creative change work – if you have any specific questions about evaluation or a topic you would like me to cover, please don’t hesitate to be in touch! All I have left to say is a big thank you to the Rethink Urban team for inviting me to join, and I look forward to working with the group.