I attended my first annual meeting of the Finnish Evaluation Society (FES) in May 2016 in Helsinki, Finland. To my surprise, I found out that Finland has the strongest evaluation culture in the OECD countries. On the other hand, as a Finn, I’m not surprised that my country scores high in almost any international comparative study. For example, the OECD Better Life Index indicates that this Northern state ranks high in many measures of well-being relative to most other countries included in the Index. However, we Finns are also used to questioning even the recognition others give to us. So did I. I asked myself: On what grounds can you argue that? Since when did we become a model country of evaluations?
A comparative cross-country analysis of evaluation culture and the institutionalization of evaluation carried out by Jacob, S., Speer, S., & Furubo, J. E. (2015) looked at 19 OECD countries that were included in the International Atlas of Evaluation back in 2001. To understand the current situation, the researchers collected data from four to five evaluation experts from different backgrounds for each country. They focused on nine indicators.
The good news for everybody is that the average overall score (including all countries) increased. No indicator decreased or remained constant over the last decade. But the best news is that Finland jumped from rank 12 to occupy the first place! Spain also made an impressive leap from the bottom 3 in 2001 to the top 3 in 2011. Canada held its position in the top 3 from 2001 through to 2011.
Now let’s go to explore the Finnish Evaluation Society (FES) of this small but persistent nation. First, who are its members? The Society carried out a survey among its members during 2015-2016. According to the results, only half of the members are actual evaluators (47%). Others include students, researchers, and representatives of institutions that commission evaluations. The institutional background of the members is diverse. It ranges from municipalities to national institutions, private companies, universities, and civil society organizations.
During the meeting, I also discovered that the mission of FES is to promote the development of the theory, practices and understanding evaluations, in an interactive manner. It also aims to encourage the use of high-quality evaluation information in the society. Its goal is to strengthen the dynamic, learning, and increasingly international evaluation culture in the activities of the public, private, and civil society sectors.
It is also worth pointing out that the current President of the European Evaluation Society (EES) is the former leader of FES, Riitta Oksanen. Later this year, she will be chairing the 12th EES Biennial Conference in the Netherlands, which will focus on the theme “Evaluation Futures in Europe and Beyond. Connectivity, Innovation, and Use”. Indufor will also join this event in September together with several other members of FES. While waiting for the months to slowly pass by before the event, you can follow Riitta’s blog here http://www.europeanevaluation.org/blog/1343.
But let’s come back to the beautiful House of Science and Letters where the annual meeting of FES was held only a few weeks ago. Towards the end of the meeting, only a few items are left in the agenda, including election of the board members for the next term. Before I realize, I have become a vice-member of the board. I am also told that there is no difference between actual board members and their backups – it is one big family that does not know hierarchy. (Remember, we are in Finland). I am convinced that an exciting adventure in promoting evaluation culture both nationally and internationally is about to start.
Keep eye on updates from us if you want to get an insight into the latest trends in the evaluation world.
 Jacob, S., Speer, S., & Furubo, J. E. (2015). The institutionalization of evaluation matters: Updating the International Atlas of Evaluation 10 years later. Evaluation, 21(1), 6-31. Available at: http://evi.sagepub.com/content/21/1/6.short
 The nine indicators used in the study by Jacob, S., Speer, S., & Furubo, J. E. (2015) were:
- evaluation takes place in many policy domains
- there should be a supply of evaluators specializing in different disciplines
- discussions and debates fuel a national discourse regarding evaluation
- a national evaluation society exists
- institutional arrangements in the government for conducting evaluations and disseminating their results exist
- institutional arrangements in Parliament for conducting and disseminating evaluations exists
- pluralism exists within each policy domain
- evaluation activities occur within the supreme audit institution
- evaluations do not just focus on inputs/outputs, but also on outcomes.