Despite not being able to be held in person, the swell of online activity around International Mother Earth Day this year, the movement’s 50th anniversary, demonstrates just how much we are connected to one another – no matter where on earth we are. Now, more than ever, this landmark event calls on us to think and act systemically on the (many, many) challenges and opportunities in front of us when it comes to climate action. We either get through this together and systemically, or we won’t.
The International Mother Earth Day: A quick recap
International Mother Earth Day, shortened Earth Day, was conceived in 1970 as an annual celebration around the world on April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protection. Since its inception, Earth Day has been growing in scope and outreach: in 2000, Earth Day partnered with the international grassroots activism and counted on the internet as its principal organizing tool; in 2007, Earth Day counted record numbers, with people participating in the activities in thousands of places; in 2017, the Earth Day Network created toolkits for different audiences and purposes and co-organized the iconic March for Science rally. Now, here we are in 2020, on the 50th Anniversary of International Mother Earth Day – celebrating this moment of coming together in the amidst of the COVID-19 global pandemic outbreak, which keeps us physically apart.
This context deserves some deeper reflection.
Blue Marble Evaluation: Why are we talking about it after the 50th Anniversary of International Mother Earth Day?
The unofficial Earth Day Flag created by John McConnell includes The Blue Marble photograph taken by the crew of Apollo 17. The Blue Marble photograph was the first photo of the whole Earth from space. In that photograph the Earth was seen for the first time from a whole Earth perspective, without borders or boundaries, and as home to all humans (and living creatures and organisms).
This iconic image, as you may have guessed so far, gives the name to Blue Marble Evaluation, an innovative evaluation approach that seeks to support and inspire a focus on that “whole-Earth” perspective by looking beyond nation-state and across silos to connect the global and local, the human and ecological, the macro and the micro, the personal and societal, and the individual with humanity. Blue Marble Evaluation uses evaluative thinking and diverse evaluation methods in support of the design, implementation, adaptation and evaluation of systems transformation initiatives towards greater sustainability, resilience, healthfulness, equity, resiliency, and diversity by acknowledging the interconnected nature of the diverse different systems in which we are embedded together with the diversity of these systems and the different consequences of those connections.
A Blue Marble Evaluation taste in the current context
The global challenges and opportunities that we face, on a human and planetary level, operate beyond borders and silos of all kinds.
Just pause for a moment and consider how that small market in Wuhan is now intimately connected to how many of us are living on this planet today. At the time of writing, more than 30% of human population in lockdown, dispersed in more than 70 different places. What’s unclear, however, is how we’re going to change how we, humans, interact with the environment surrounding us in the future; how will different governments conceive public health in the future; and how they address the long-term impacts of this global pandemic? From what is changes in our inner beliefs, thoughts, and cultures; our perspectives on equity, poverty, racism and sexism; and what it changes in how our food is produced and consumed in the economic systems we currently live on? The list goes on in one direction but, in many ways, the variables take us all the way back to that small market in China.
Not to mention all the existing loops among the aforementioned variables, and all that yet remain to be discovered.
Any initiative expecting to generate any positive effect in such an intertwined context needs to acknowledge and proactively address the complexities and the systemic nature of the current world at different scales along with the different consequences of these interrelations for different agents of the system. For that we have traditionally counted on forms of evaluation linked to tracking indicators against predetermined project bounded goals and/or assessing impacts against pre-defined criteria. These are far from being able to support the kind of systemic transformations we currently need in order to face the situation we face today. The deficiencies of this kind of narrow and siloed evaluation is a block to progress, rather than an enabler for the transformations we urgently need.
Many global systemic risks and opportunities are upon us, with COVID-19 demanding the most attention. Yet, the climate crisis is already readily unfolding around us – as it has been for some time – and a already socio-economic crisis knocking at the door. It’s clear we can’t respond to one “crisis” without considering the other.
And, with the climate crisis not being “just” a health crisis, or a socio-economic crisis, but an “everything change” crisis.
Four guiding principles form Blue Marble Evaluation to make every day the International Mother Earth Day
Blue Marble Evaluation (BME) invites us to think on 4 principles that can help us to think more systemically on the challenges and opportunities we have ahead. These 4 principles are briefly outlined below. You can find more information in the BME book by BME’s visionary ideologist, father, thought leader, developer, and continuous improver Michael Quinn Patton and in the BME platform.
- Apply whole Earth, big picture thinking to all aspects of systems change: Global problems like the climate change, worldwide pollution, global disparities or the global health require global interventions and, correspondingly, globally-oriented and world savvy evaluators.
- Know and face the realities of the Anthropocene and act accordingly: Some human actions have led us into the global problems that humanity faces. We know need human actions that lead us into the resolution of these problems; thus, there are things for evaluators to know about global sustainability, resilience, equity, diversity, inclusion, health, etc. in the context of the Anthropocene to undertake evaluations knowledgeably and credibly.
- Engage consistent with the magnitude, direction, and speed of transformations needed and envisioned. Global, anthropogenic problems are so severe, threatening the future sustainability of the planet and humanity, that major and rapid systems transformations are needed. We are no longer in the incrementalism era. We need deep meaningful transformations, and we need them now.
- Integrate the Blue Marble principles in the design, engagement with, and evaluation of systems change and transformation initiatives. Transformation requires multiple interventions and actions on many fronts undertaken by diverse but interconnected actors. Uphold your role on this great endeavor.
This set of principles, together with whole the Blue Marble approach can constitute a meaningful invitation to explicitly consider the increasingly clear links tying together the health of the planet, the health of the different livings, the way the relations among systems are established, to what end, for whom benefit, and for whom disadvantage; from the local to the global, from the policy and economy to individual to the social.
This is crucial today, and it is for evaluation to keep serving to those engaged in genuine transformations of our world towards the common good for a greater future together. In this era of increased interconnections that urgently calls for a planetary approach in any endeavor, we need to be able to make sense of the world and the initiatives intending to transform it from a more systemic way.
As the Earth Day 2020 campaign says: “Earth Day is every day, and anywhere you are. On April 22, Earth Day goes digital”. And as the campaign says as well: “(let’s) flood the world with hope, optimism and action”.
Stay safe, stay healthy. And stay committed to genuine systemic transformation for the common good of our world.