Three weeks ago, I promised you a series of posts on related topics–Program planning, Evaluation implementation, monitoring and delivering, and Evaluation utilization. This is the third one–using the findings of evaluation.
I’ll try to condense the 400+ page book down to 500+ words for today’s post. Fortunately, I have the Reader’s Digest version as well (look for Chapter 23 [Utilization-Focused Evaluation] in the following citation: Stufflebeam, D. L., Madaus, G. F. Kellaghan, T. (2000). Evaluation Models: Viewpoints on educational and human services evaluation, 2ed. Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers). Patton’s chapter is a good summary–still it is 14 pages.
To start, it is important to understand exactly how the word “evaluation” is used in the context of utilization. In the Stufflebeam, Madaus, & Kellaghan publication cited above, Patton (2000, p. 426) describes evaluation as, “the systematic collection of information about the activities, characteristics, and outcomes of programs to make judgments about the program, improve program effectiveness and/or inform decisions about future programming. Utilization-focused evaluation (as opposed to program evaluation in general) is evaluation done for and with specific intended primary users for specific, intended uses (emphasis added). ”
There are four different types of use–instrumental, conceptual, persuasive, and process. The interest of potential stakeholders cannot be served well unless the stakeholder(s) whose interests are being served is made explicit.
To understand the types of use, I will quote from a document titled, “Non-formal Educator Use of Evaluation Findings: Factors of Influence” by Sarah Baughman.
“Instrumental use occurs when decision makers use the findings to change or modify the program in some way (Fleisher & Christie, 2009; McCormick, 1997; Shulha & Cousins, 1997). The information gathered is used in a direct, concrete way or applied to a specific decision (McCormick, 1997).
Conceptual use occurs when the evaluation findings help the program staff or key stakeholders understand the program in a new way (Fleisher & Christie, 2009).
Persuasive use has also been called political use and is not always viewed as a positive type of use (McCormick, 1997). Examples of negative persuasive use include using evaluation results to justify or legitimize a decision that is already made or to prove to stakeholders or other administrative decision makers that the organization values accountability (Fleisher & Christie, 2009). It is sometimes considered a political use of findings with no intention to take the actual findings or the evaluation process seriously (Patton, 2008). Recently persuasive use has not been viewed as negatively as it once was.
Process use is the cognitive, behavioral, program, and organizational changes resulting, either directly or indirectly, from engagement in the evaluation process and learning to think evaluatively” (Patton, 2008, p. 109). Process use results not from the evaluation findings but from the evaluation activities or process.”
Before beginning the evaluation, the question, “Who is the primary intended user of the evaluation?” must not only be asked; it also must be answered. What stakeholders need to be at the table? Those are the people who have a stake in the evaluation findings and those stakeholders may be different for each evaluation. They are probably the primary intended users who will determine the evaluations use.
Citations mentioned in the Baughman quotation include:
- Fleischer, D. N. & Christie, C. A. (2009). Evaluation use: Results from a survey of U.S. American Evaluation Association members. American Journal of Evaluation, 30(2), 158-175
- McCormick, E. R. (1997). Factors influencing the use of evaluation results. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section A: The Humanities and Social Sciences, 58, 4187 (UMI 9815051).
- Shula, L. M. & Cousins, J. B. (1997). Evaluation use: Theory, research and practice since 1986. Evaluation Practice, 18, 195-208.
- Patton, M. Q. (2008). Utilization Focused Evaluation (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.