Through the generous support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Eastern Evaluation Research Society (EERS) is launching the Eleanor Chelimsky Forum.

Video Series

One product of the Forum is a series of videos documenting inaugural event presentations and a 30-minute interview with Dr. Chelimsky. These are available on the EERS YouTube channel or individually through the following links:


Origin of the Eleanor Chelimsky Forum

Founded in 1978, EERS is a full-fledged affiliate of the American Evaluation Association (AEA) and remains a vibrant contributor to interdisciplinary program evaluation practice and theory especially through its annual conference for evaluation professionals. The genesis of the Forum derives from a plenary paper titled, Balancing Theory and Practice in the Real World, authored by Eleanor Chelimsky, for the 2012 EERS Annual Conference. Recognizing the interdependence of evaluation theory and practice for developing best practices and the often divergent views of theorists and practitioners regarding what should be considered as important, Chelimsky recommended that a forum be established to mediate the divide between “principle and context.” Her vision was that theory and practice would inform each other and, “in that learning process, both would be inspired to stretch, to bend a little, to grow,” thereby adding “breadth, depth and realism to our work.”

At its meeting in August, 2012, the EERS Board of Directors unanimously agreed to establish the Eleanor Chelimsky Forum as an annual conference event. The annual EERS Conference attracts practicing evaluators at various stages in their careers representing a range of disciplines (e.g., education, health, juvenile justice) and constituencies (e.g., consultancy, think-tanks, non-profits, for-profits, universities, funders).

Subsequently, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation generously approved multi-year funding for the Forum through 2017. Laura Leviton, Senior Advisor for Evaluation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former EERS Advisory Committee member, has worked continuously on Forum planning with a team of EERS representatives.

Forum Theme

In keeping with Eleanor Chelimsky’s original intent, the goal of the Forum will be to surface, examine, and offer responses to important issues raised by evaluation theorists and practitioners. Audience interaction will be a significant part of the Forum. Discussions will reflect a tone of “respectful inquiry.” As Chelimsky writes, “If we are successful balancing the two, both theory and practice will be changed.”


Eleanor Chelimsky

From 1980 to 1994, Eleanor Chelimsky directed the Program Evaluation and Methodology Division of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Her tenure was influential in shaping the public agenda, producing nearly 300 evaluations of government policies and programs for Congress, as well as developing and demonstrating new methods for evaluation. During her public service career, Chelimsky served as United States Assistant Comptroller General, as President of the American Evaluation Association, and as President of the Evaluation Research Society. She was an economic and statistical analyst at NATO, a research manager at the MITRE Corporation, and studied in Paris as a Fulbright Scholar.  Eleanor has written and published extensively on evaluation theory and practice, and its relationship to public policy. She has received many awards for her work, including GAO's top honor, “The Comptroller General's Award” for unparalleled contributions in developing innovative approaches to evaluate the effects of government programs and fostering their use by GAO and decision makers in the United States and abroad. "She is currently an independent consultant for evaluation policy, practice and methodology and is a member of AEA's Evaluation Policy Task Force. Her recent work includes projects for the U.S. Public Health Service, the European Commission, the World Bank, the National Academy of Public Administration and others.

Description of the Forum

The Forum is the centerpiece of the EERS Conference. A 90-minute plenary session, it will feature well-known authorities in the field of evaluation who will discuss new or persistent problems in the fit between theory and practice, including proposals for resolution of the problems.

At the 2013 conference, two presenters (Michael Quinn Patton and Tom Schwandt) will be speaking. Each speaker will present a brief (20 – 25 minute) address dealing with the “Theory-Practice” issue; possibly deliver a short response to the other’s talk; and participate with EERS conference attendees in a facilitated question and answer session (lasting 20-30 minutes). A discussant, Laura C. Leviton, Senior Advisor for Evaluation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will deliver a 10 minute commentary.


Michael Quinn Patton is an independent organizational development and evaluation consultant based in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He is former President of the American Evaluation Association and recipient of both the Alva and Gunnar Myrdal Award for "outstanding contributions to evaluation use and practice" and the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Award for lifetime contributions to evaluation theory from the American Evaluation Association.  The Society for Applied Sociology honored him with the Lester F. Ward Award for Outstanding Contributions to Applied Sociology. He is the author of six evaluation books including a 4th edition of Utilization-Focused Evaluation and 3rd edition of  Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods, books that have been used in over 500 universities worldwide. He is also author of Creative Evaluation; Practical Evaluation, and editor of several issues of New Directions for Evaluation including Culture and Evaluation, Teaching Evaluation Using the Case Method, and Evaluating Strategy. He has co-authored a book on the dynamics of social innovation with two Canadians drawing on complexity theory and systems thinking entitled Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed. His latest books are Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use (Guilford Press, 2011) and Essentials of Utilization-Focused Evaluation (2012).


Thomas A. Schwandt is Professor, Department of Educational Psychology, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of numerous works including  Evaluation Practice Reconsidered (2002); Evaluating Holistic Rehabilitation Practice (Kommuneforlaget AS, 2004); Dictionary of Qualitative Inquiry (3rd ed. Sage, 2007); and, with Ken Prewitt and Miron Straf, Using Science as Evidence in Public Policy (National Academies Press, 2012). In 2002 he received the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Award from the American Evaluation Association for his contributions to evaluation theory. He is the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Evaluation, member of the editorial board of Evaluation: The International Journal of Theory, Research & Practice, and a member of the (U.S.) National Research Council’s Standing Committee on Social Science Evidence for Use. Before becoming a university professor, Schwandt was employed as an evaluator with an international auditing and consulting firm. He has extensive experience teaching and researching evaluation issues in the Scandinavian countries and has held visiting appointments at Roskilde University and the Department of Political Science and Public Management at Southern University of Denmark.


Disseminating Forum Content Via Publications

In addition to the presentation, each of the two speakers will prepare an 8 to 12 page manuscript for publication in a peer-reviewed journal and submit such to EERS within one month after the completion of the Forum. Thus, broader dissemination of Forum content can be made to the evaluation community and general public not only via publishing the commissioned manuscripts, but also through online tools including, but not limited to, the EERS web site, YouTube channel, and LinkedIn group.