Program theory

Filed Under (program evaluation) by Molly on 08-12-2010

According to the counter on this blog, I’ve published 49 times.  Since last week was the one year anniversary of the inception of “Evaluation is an Everyday Activity”, which means 52 weeks, I missed a few weeks.  Not surprising with vacations, professional development, and writer’s block.  Today is a writer’s block day…I thought I’d do something about program theory.  I’m sure you are asking what has program theory to do with evaluating my program.   Let me explain…

An evaluation that is theory driven uses program theory as a tool to (according to Jody Fitzpatrick):

  1. understand the program to be evaluated
  2. guide the evaluation.

Pretty important contributions.  Faculty have often told me, I know my program’s good; everyone likes it.  But–

Can you describe the program theory that supports your program?

Huey Chen (1) defines program theory as, “a specification of what must be done to achieve the desired goals, what other important impacts may be anticipated, and how these goals and impacts would be generated.”  There are two parts of program theory:  normative theory and causative theory.  Normative theory (quoting Fitzpatrick) “…describes the program as it should be, its goals and outcomes, its interventions and the rationale for these, from the perspectives of various stakeholders.”  Causative theory, according to Fitzpatrick, “… makes use of existing research to describe the potential outcomes of the program based on characteristics of  the clients (read, target audience) and the program actions.  Using both normative and causative theories, one can develop a “plausible program model” or logic model.

Keep in mind that a “plausible program model” is only one of the possible models and the model  developed before implementation may need to change before the final evaluation.  Although anticipated outcomes are the ones you think will happen as a result of the program, Jonny Morell (2) provides a long list of programs where unanticipated outcomes happen before, during, and after the program implementation.  It might be a good idea to think of all potential outcomes–not just the ones you think might happen.  This is why program theory is important…to help you focus on the potential outcomes.

1.  Chen, H. (1990). Theory-driven evaluations.  Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

2.  Morell, J. A. (2010). Evaluation in the Face of Uncertainty. NY: Guilford Press.

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Why Promising Blogs Disappear | Eval Central on 10 December, 2010 at 7:54 am #

[…] act when you’ve never seen the script?) and the other from Evaluation is an Everyday Activity (Program theory), that address these complications through […]

englem on 14 December, 2010 at 9:52 am #

A bit more about writer’s block…there seems to be several threads (from where I sit, any way) that recur on evaluation blogs…once those threads have been covered, the question occurs–Do those threads need to be revisited? Does the writer need to go deeper into one of those threads? Does the writer need to look for new material. Eval Central blog compiles resources for evaluators that range from non-profits to visual graphics (AEA365 blog) to my everyday (Evaluation is an everyday activity) and makes those sources available for evaluators–then the question becomes, “Do evaluators have any time to read blogs or do their evaluation tasks fill their day? And then there is the writer–even if the writer can answer the first three questions, writing is hard work. My guru on blogs tells me I can whip out my weekly blog in an hour or so–NOT. I find I have to check references, check content, find images (because my readers like my images–or so they have told me), and proof read…even then, I’m spending at least a half day compiling my weekly blog. Right now, I’m stuck. I don’t have a topic. I don’t have any thing novel to say. I’m experiencing serious writer’s block. My oldest daughter says write about the evaluative behavior found in the holiday experience…I could, I suppose…after all, evaluation is an everyday activity…:) Happy Holidays!

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