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Get to know our new evaluation expert, Alison May

Photo of Alison

A few weeks ago, Alison joined the Sustineo Team as our Principal Consultant (Evaluation). She brings to the Team broad experience in evaluation, having worked extensively in Australia and internationally, including in Timor-Leste, the Sinai, across the Middle East and elsewhere in the Asia Pacific. At home in Australia, Alison most recently evaluated and advised on events including the 2020 bushfires and South Australia’s response to COVID-19. Sustineo’s Ellis Mackenzie sat down for a chat about how she ended up with Sustineo and what else keeps her busy.

What drew you to Sustineo?

I have been aware of the work that Sustineo does for several years and saw their name popping up in a variety of contexts with different federal government agencies and through involvement with the Australasian Evaluation Society. Having known Nicky Thatcher since our days together doing performance audit at Australian National Audit Office, I had insight into the culture of curiosity and professional drive behind Sustineo. As a career researcher and evaluator in the Public Service, I was intrigued to follow Sustineo’s progress starting out as a small independent agency producing high volumes of in-depth research. I was drawn to their ethical and participatory research approach, while also maintaining personal values and team wellbeing at the forefront of their enterprise. When the opportunity arose to join the team and make use of my skills and experience in this context, I was keen to further my achievements with new perspectives and energy.

What skills and expertise are you bringing to Sustineo?

I bring to Sustineo a combination of evaluation expertise coupled with 20 years’ experience in strategic planning and sense making, policy development and senior government decision support. This combination, particularly when applied in cross-cultural contexts, enables rapid insights into practical recommendations with a focus on the full spectrum of variables and both intended and unintended consequences. As a natural systemic thinker, I fit well amongst the experts at Sustineo and I am looking forward to working with them in drawing out priority considerations, risks, and to surface assumptions in the programs we examine.

What do you hope to achieve during your time at Sustineo?

Overall, I hope to grow and strengthen Sustineo as a business, and become a part of a professional, passionate, and fun team. Whilst doing this I aim to fully realise my potential for demonstrating leadership in both personal and professional endeavours through the values of integrity, courage, vulnerability and persistence. I’m eager to take on responsibility for innovative evaluations that inform decision making and improve the way important programs are implemented.

What has been your biggest learning experience from your career so far?

I have experienced a long journey of realisation that a big part of having impact, integrity, and spreading your professional wings is being comfortable with vulnerability. A workplace or situation that doesn’t allow you to do that, at any age or level, is not one in which you can grow. At best you can aim to take pride in surviving, but its largely impossible to grow, learn and shine from behind armour. Over the past 20 years, I have learnt in many diverse situations that grappling with having the courage to be vulnerable is essential to showing leadership and building trust through setting an example in interpersonal relations. Most importantly, it takes away urges to become demotivated, procrastinate or avoid scary new challenges – whether it’s deployment to a war zone, an initial client meeting, a difficult conversation, embracing a boring task, or starting a big new research project. It is possible to take on each new challenge with the knowledge that you are making a commitment to give your full effort, but not to maintain a façade of infinite positivity, infallibility or perfection.

Tell us something we don’t know about you.

I am a mother of 4 who likes to bake elaborate cakes and all sorts of international dishes while listening to hardcore heavy metal and industrial goth tunes. I also enjoy listening to Classical, Jazz, Aussie hip hop, 70’s, 80’s alternative, Swing and Indie, and just about every other genre, but bands like Slipknot, Parkway Drive, Hatebreed, Bring Me the Horizon, Disturbed and Ministry bring me the most joy.

Outside of work, what are you passionate about?

Music, cooking, and family (especially our 6 pets). But also time in, on or near the ocean, travel, wine, and sharing it all with wonderful humans.

What was the last book you read?

Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? (and how to fix it) by Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic – a compelling summary of psychological research that finds a damaging mismatch between the qualities traditionally equated with leadership and the qualities empirically proven to be requirements of effective leadership. He argues that many behaviours aspired to in traditional masculine leadership models like loudness, assertiveness and dominance, favour incompetent leaders over prospective leaders who display humility, wisdom and integrity. Concurrently I have been reading Team of Teams: New rules of engagement for a complex world by General Stanley McChrystal.

Sustineo acknowledges the Traditional owners and Custodians of this country and our Ancestors and Elders, both past, present and into the future. We also acknowledge the importance of our connections with land, sea, community and cultures.