An Earnest Evaluation

Now is the time of evaluation and appraisal. Evaluation of what has past and appraisal of what is to come.

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah is not a stand-alone holy day. It is the start of a cluster of Autumnal holidays that begin by celebrating the birth of the world and end by celebrating the end and beginning of the annual cycle of reading the Torah, the scrolls that are comprised of the five books of Moses. Altogether, these holidays span over three weeks. Rosh Hashanah is also the first day of the ten ‘days of awe’ that culminate in the holiest day in the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is often translated as the Day of Atonement. There is much in the service about asking for forgiveness, sins of the individual and the community, promising to be better next year and God granting pardon – at least for any wrongs against God. Wrongs done to fellow humans must be forgiven by said humans. All this atonement requires substantial reflection, but more than that, it requires evaluation of what we have done. And, as we are also looking forward to being written into the Book of Life for a good year to come, it requires not just forward planning, but appraisal of what we can realistically do to be better people.

In my view, reflection or remembering deeds of the previous year and making plans for the next year are skills that, whilst not always easy, can be taught and are common enough. Evaluation and appraisal are much more difficult. And evaluation and appraisal of the positive, rather than the negative are even more difficult than that.

Take the UK party conference season or the US midterm election home straight. Legislation passed or vetoed, executive actions taken, statistics and polls collected are presented to the public as if their implications are obvious. Any analysis is left to the media, who mainly focus on the negative and rarely attempt clear, unbiased evaluation, never mind projecting forward an honest appraisal of the continuation or alteration of policies and governance.

In transport planning as well, evaluation and appraisal are particularly difficult skills, constantly debated and often short-changed in favour of more palatable or easier to measure lists of indicators or policy statements, no matter how meaningless. It is difficult to argue for projects that will make our lives better without proper evaluation and appraisal, and transport planners leave themselves open for that much more criticism by the local and national press. Those who deliver projects – operators, engineers, campaigners, volunteers – often struggle even more than transport planners with these skills. Without robust appraisal, worthwhile projects don’t get funded and without robust evaluation, successful projects don’t get extended, enhanced and replicated. Where possible, detailed evaluation should form the baseline for the next appraisal.

Perhaps my Jewish upbringing, with its annual day of reckoning, has helped me develop an understanding of what evaluation and appraisal are about, whilst my education and experience developed my methods. As a transport planner, I have delivered some fantastic projects over the last couple years. My role in delivery has not been a physical one. Rather I have researched, planned, bid, procured, managed and monitored. At its best, my role has been one of evaluation and appraisal.

On Yom Kippur, I apply these skills to my ‘personal’ life, which is 100% of my time at the moment, as I am on maternity leave. I have evaluated the last year in all its blessings and will use this understanding to appraise the opportunities available to me over the next year. What will be the outcome? That will form next year’s evaluation.

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