Dione (Sanji) Hills (1948 - 2021)

Dione (Sanji) Hills (1948 - 2021)

We are extremely sad to announce that our dear friend and colleague Dr Dione Hills has died following a sudden and short illness.

We are extremely sad to announce that our dear friend and colleague Dr Dione Hills has died following a sudden and short illness.

Dione’s long and fruitful career at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations lasted 35 years, and she was still contributing in a number of ways right up to and during her illness. Alongside her paid work, Dione maintained and developed a deeply committed spiritual life, as a member of different communities of spiritual practice. Dione strove to integrate her work at the Institute and spiritual life in a serious fashion, bringing warmth, wisdom and a mischievous sense of humour to her colleagues. They remember her now with lighted candles, which would please her, as candle making had been an early talent.

Dione grew up in Guernsey and moved away to study Psychology and Sociology at Bristol University, following which she went to volunteer and work in the voluntary sector, first with the Simon Community in Glasgow, and then with the Richmond Fellowship, a hostel for people with alcohol dependency. During this time, her research career began when she undertook a survey of single homelessness in Glasgow. Her commitment to involve and empower service users, particularly excluded and marginalised groups, never wavered.

After two spells with the Department of Health, Dione was recruited to the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in 1986, to evaluate a programme on informal carers. She remained at the Institute for the rest of her working life, except for a two-year secondment to the Prince of Wales Foundation for Integrated Health from 2005-6.

In 1990, she became one of the founder members of the Evaluation Development and Review Unit (EDRU), undertaking complex, programme level evaluations that included major initiatives in the area of community care, support for disabled people and health education at a community level. Notable amongst these in the 1990s were evaluations of HELIOS II, an EU programme for equal rights and integration of disabled people (1997), of London Lighthouse, a centre for people with HIV and AIDS, (1994) of the DHSS Training Support Programme for Older People and of the Healthy Living Centre Initiatives, community health interventions created to address health inequalities (2005).

She contributed to the field of evaluation in her use of theory-based, realistic and contribution analysis evaluation approaches and increasingly at the Institute took a methodological lead in evaluations. She also enjoyed developing evaluation frameworks with and for clients to support their learning. Dione was a great collaborator, often working in partnerships, and she worked hard at these and all her relationships.

Dione was, however, not afraid to go against the tide – her PhD, of which she was rightly proud, was in Complementary Health Studies completed in 2005 from the University of Exeter. She followed this up with a range of embodied facilitation practices that she could eventually bring into the workplace. Earlier, in 1996, she had co-authored an early critique of the limitations of randomised control trials (RCTs) funded by the Joseph Rowntree Trust and was published in the Evaluation journal in 1998 with an article on engaging new social movements, still a little counter-cultural at the time.

A rigorous researcher, Dione stepped into potentially complicated spaces in her work. One example was the action research project that she led to promote intercultural dialogue between mental health services and African traditional healers to improve integrated care. Another was closer to home when she was able to contribute to the largely sparse literature on Group Relations. Having already attended the Leicester conference some years prior, she went another time as a researcher with a colleague focusing on one main measurable research question – learning at the Leicester conference. Not interfering in the main business of the conference was a task in which she excelled brilliantly, and the results of the research were published in the journal Organisational and Social Dynamics in 2018, which pleased Dione hugely.

While her early interests in community development, health and social care remained constant, during the 21st century, Dione also turned her attention to the environment and the transport sector. Over several years she developed and contributed to evaluations on, for example, local road safety, railway safety, cycling cities and towns, and a synthesis project to support learning from the smart meter programme. In 2009, she developed guidance for the Department of Transport on choosing evaluation approaches to achieve better attribution for impact evaluations, which colleagues also often drew on. Dione’s interest in the environment continued as the time she offered to the Institute reduced, as she shared her knowledge and learning as a consultant to projects and colleagues, even until very recently for example for the current BEIS evaluation of Heat Networks.

Dione was committed to sharing her knowledge of evaluation and developing the field, which she did with great skill.  Indeed, throughout her professional life, Dione’s passion for teaching and training others in research and evaluation (and not only) shone through, as did her unstinting commitment to helping others (especially young people) develop and flourish at the Institute and beyond. Indeed, as an inspiring and nurturing but also demanding and aspirational teacher and leader, Dione has been responsible for developing successive cohorts of researchers and evaluators not only at the Tavistock Institute but also other UK-based organisations and across the world. As with all her other pursuits, Dione approached this teaching role with dedication, integrity, wisdom, patience and kindness. She aspired to teach evaluation theories and methodologies in a thoughtful, contextualised and nuanced way that would instil a set of core values and to promote the highest standards of professionalism among her (young) trainees. She did so with enormous empathy and compassion – another very special characteristic of Dione.

She was a valued member of the Council of the UK Evaluation Society (UKES) sitting on a number of working groups, having an interest in developing the professionalisation of evaluation practitioners. A significant role for Dione latterly was as a partner and fellowship holder in the ESRC funded Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus (CECAN), an organisation concerned with transforming the practice of policy evaluation in Nexus areas such as food, energy, water and the environment, to make it fit for a complex world. In 2020, Dione was a lead author, in association with CECAN, of the Annex on Handling Complexity in Policy Evaluation for the Magenta Book, published by HM Treasury, which provides central government guidance on evaluation.

Dione was known as Sanji in her community life, having undergone an awakening process rooted in a nexus of spiritual practices, including meditation and living in and working with spiritual communities. Most recently, from 2009, she developed a commitment to the Trillium Awakening community and was active in supporting its development in the UK and Europe, where once again, her capacity to live what she advocated was evident. At the 2017 Tavistock Institute Festival with a colleague, she birthed the idea of the Tavistock Awakening Organisations (TAO) Programme, to bring spiritual matters to business and organisation matters to spiritual organisations.

In 2020, Dione wrote a report on spiritual and alternative organisations in Glastonbury supported by a local organisation, the Glaston Centre. Although rooted in some very local challenges, the broad themes are generic and applicable to other local community contexts. She was excited to be working with some Glastonbury local people on the idea of setting up a research and support centre for local businesses. She found some funding to commission a colleague from the UK evaluation society to undertake an analysis of the contribution that spiritual and alternative organisations make to the local Glastonbury economy.

Dione will also be remembered as a fine massage therapist, who lent her skilful fingers to tense necks and shoulders, for her beautiful gardens, which colleagues glimpsed latterly through video calls from Glastonbury or Redhill, and her calm presence at the weekly ‘quiet half hour’ which she initiated, bringing colleagues together during the pandemic in peaceful contemplation.

Dione is survived by her partner Sean Campbell, her sister Chris Grant and her family who she loved very much.

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