Chris Lysy, at Fresh Spectrum, had a guest contributor in his most recent blog, Rakesh Mohan.
Rakesh says “…evaluators forget that evaluation is inherently political because it involves making judgment about prioritization, distribution, and use of resources.”
I agree that evaluators can make judgements about prioritization, distribution and resource use. I wonder if making judgements is built in to the role of evaluator; is even taught to the nascent evaluator? I also wonder if the Principal Investigator (PI) has much to say about the judgements. What if the evaluator interprets the findings one way and the PI doesn’t agree. Is that political? Or not. Does the PI have the final say about what the outcomes mean (the prioritization, distribution, and resource use)? Does the evaluator make recommendations or does the evaluator only draw conclusions? Then where do comments on the prioritization, the distribution, the resource use come into the discussion? Are they recommendations or are they conclusions?
I decided I would see what my library says about politics: Scriven’s Thesaurus* talks about the politics of evaluation; Fitzpatrick, Sanders, and Worthen* have a chapter on “Political, Interpersonal, and Ethical Issues in Evaluation” (chapter 3); Rossi, Lipsey, and Freeman* have a section on political context (pp. 18-20) and a section on political process (pp. 381-393) that includes policy and policy implications. The 1982 Cronbach* volume (Designing Evaluatations of Educational and Social Programs) has a brief discussion (of multiple perspectives) and the classic 1980 volume, Toward Reform of Program Evaluation, also addresses the topic*. Least I neglect to include those authors who ascribe to the naturalistic approaches, Guba and Lincoln talk about the politics of evaluation (pp. 295-299) in their1981 volume, Effective Evaluation . The political aspects of evaluation have been part of the field for a long time.
So–because politics has been and continues to be part of evaluation, perhaps what Mohan says is relevant. When I look at Scriven’s comments in the Thesauras, the comment that stands out is, “Better education for the citizen about –and in–evaluation, may be the best route to improvement, short of a political leader with the charisma to persuade us of anything and the brains to persuade us to imporve our critical thinking.” Since the likelihood that we will see a political leader to persuade us is slim, perhaps education is the best approach. And like Mohan says, invite them to the conference. (After all, education comes in all sizes and experiences.) Perhaps then policy makers, politicians, press, and public will be able understand and make a difference BECAUSE OF EVALUATION!
*Scriven, M. (1991). Evaluation thesaurus. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
*Fitzpatrick, J. L., Sanders, J. R., & Worthen, B. R. (2011). Program evaluation: Alternative approaches and practical guidelines. (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson
*Rossi, P. H., Lipsey, M. W., & Freeman, H. E. (2004). Evaluation: A systematic approach (7th ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
*Cronbach, L. J. (1982). Designing evaluations of educational and social programs. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc. Publishers.
*Cronbach, L. J. et al. (1980). Toward reform of program evaluation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc. Publishers.
*Guba, E. G. & Lincoln, Y. S. (1981). Effective evaluation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc. Publishers.