You know the old saying about when you assume.

I’ve talked about assumptions here and here. (AEA365 talks about them here.)

Each of those times I was talking about assumptions, though not necessarily from the perspective of today’s post.

I still find that making assumptions is a mistake as well as a cognitive bias. And it does… .

Today, though, I want to talk about assumptions that evaluators can make, and in today’s climate, that is dangerous.

So, let me start with an example.


Once upon a time, investigators received funds to provide women who used and abused cocaine safe, stable, and secure housing. The investigators planned to provide for women’s young children. By providing stable and secure housing, cocaine use would/could be reduced and could/would be measured by urine and blood samples (assumption #1). The investigators arranged for the children’s needs (assumption #2). And facilities were contracted to provide shelter for the women (assumption #3).

Would any of this work? Theoretically, it should (assumption #4).

As planning proceeded, the question was asked: “What do the women say?”

As it turned out, the women had not been asked. No one talked to the women about their needs.

The science was well documented.

Best practice was being employed.

A key stakeholder was, unfortunately, NOT “at the table”.

Planning stopped. The investigators invited the women. They came and offered much.

Was it another assumption to not include the children? Probably. The investigators made arrangements for the children.

What if those arrangements didn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t work?


How often do we follow the assumptions?

What if (as in this case) those assumptions were faulty?

How do you over come those assumptions?

Where does culture fit into the discussion? Or does it?

Are the values we hold dear blinding us to the picture in front of us?

I think that clarifying, up front, when the planning begins, what assumptions are underlying the values you bring to the table. This is so important, this clarifying. Assumptions are only a place to start…not the answer.

my .





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2 thoughts on “Assumptions

  1. Hi Molly! I stumbled across your blog in looking for good posts for “democratizing” evaluation at my organization, a global development nonprofit. Would love to hear about other resources you like for non-evaluators to feel more empowerment and ownership of evaluation, data, M&E, etc.

  2. Democratizing evaluation is a challenge especially when Socrates was dubious about the state of democracy (see: Perhaps it is a new post that will come. Fitzpatrick (see below) says that one of the evaluation purposes is to improve democracy. That thought is provoking because of what Socrates said about democracy.

    With regard to resources for use by non-evaluators (which happens in my job frequently), I would suggest that 1) you go through my various blogs (they often have sources cited; 2) get a copy of Dillman survey book (he wrote the book) and keep it handy–like on your desk; 3) get a copy of Strunk and White, the Elements of Style–and keep it handy as well (because every evaluator needs to be stylistically literate); and get a good general evaluation book (I like Fitzpatrick, Sanders, and Worthen book “Program Evaluation: Alternative approaches and practical guidelines”). The general evaluation book can be kept on your bookcase. I’m sure there are others; they are sprinkled throughout my blogs.

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