I had a conversation today about how to measure if I was making a difference in what I do. Although the conversation was referring to working with differences, I am conscious that the work work I do and the work of working with differences transcends most disciplines and positions. How does it relate to evaluation?
These are two sides of the same coin. Individuals come to evaluation with a history or perspective. Individuals voice their view in the development of evaluation plans. If individuals are not invited and/or do not come to the table for the discussion, a voice is missing.
This conversation went on–the message was that voice and perspective are more important in evaluations which employ a qualitative approach rather than a quantitative approach. Yes—and no.
Certainly, words have perspective and provide a vehicle for voice. And words are the basis for qualitative methods. So this is the “Yes”. Is this still an issue when the target audience is homogeneous? Is it still an issue when the evaluator is “different” on some criteria than the target audience. Or as one mental health worker once stated, only an addict can provide effective therapy to another addict. Is that really the case? Or do voice and perspective always over lay an evaluation?
Let’s look at quantitative methods. Some would argue that numbers aren’t affected by perspective and voice. I will argue that the basis for these numbers is words. If words are turned into numbers are voice and perspective still an issue? This is the “Yes and no”.
I am reminded of the story of a brook and a Native American child. The standardized test asked which of the following is similar to a brook. The possible responses were (for the sake of this conversation) river, meadow, lake, inlet. The Native American child, growing up in the desert Southwest, had never heard of the word “brook”. Consequently got the item wrong. This was one of many questions where perspective affected the response. Wrong answers were totaled to a number subtracted from the possible total and a score (a number) resulted. That individual number was grouped with other individual numbers and compared to numbers from another group using a statistical test (for the sake of conversation), a t-test. Is the resulting statistic of significance valid? I would say not. So this is the “No”. Here the voice and perspective have been obfuscated.
The statistical significance between those groups is clear according to the computation; clear that is until one looks at the words behind the numbers. It is in the words behind the numbers that perspective and voice affect the outcomes.