Evaluation is a methodological area that is closely related to, but distinguishable from more traditional social research. Evaluation utilizes many of the same methodologies used in traditional social research, but because evaluation takes place within a political and organizational context, it requires group skills, management ability, political dexterity,sensitivity to multiple stakeholders and other skills that social research in general does not rely on as much. Here we introduce the idea of evaluation and some of the major terms and issues in the field.
Definitions of Evaluation
Probably the most frequently given definition is:
Evaluation is the systematic assessment of the worth or merit of some object
This definition is hardly perfect. There aremany types of evaluations that do not necessarily result in an assessment of worth or merit -- descriptive studies, implementation analyses, and formative evaluations, to name a few. Better perhaps is a definition that emphasizes the information-processing and feedback functions of evaluation. For instance, one might say:
Evaluation is the systematic acquisition and assessment of informationto provide useful feedback about some object
Both definitions agree that evaluation is a systematic endeavor and both use the deliberately ambiguous term 'object' which could refer to a program, policy, technology, person, need, activity, and so on. The latter definition emphasizes acquiring and assessing information rather than assessing worth or merit because all evaluation work involvescollecting and sifting through data, making judgements about the validity of the information and of inferences we derive from it, whether or not an assessment of worth or merit results.
The Goals of Evaluation
The generic goal of most evaluations is to provide "useful feedback" to a variety of audiences including sponsors, donors, client-groups, administrators, staff, and other relevantconstituencies. Most often, feedback is perceived as "useful" if it aids in decision-making. But the relationship between an evaluation and its impact is not a simple one -- studies that seem critical sometimes fail to influence short-term decisions, and studies that initially seem to have no influence can have a delayed impact when more congenial conditions arise. Despite this, there is broad consensus thatthe major goal of evaluation should be to influence decision-making or policy formulation through the provision of empirically-driven feedback.
'Evaluation strategies' means broad, overarching perspectives on evaluation. They encompass the most general groups or "camps" of evaluators; although, at its best, evaluation work borrows eclectically from the perspectives ofall these camps. Four major groups of evaluation strategies are discussed here.
Scientific-experimental models are probably the most historically dominant evaluation strategies. Taking their values and methods from the sciences -- especially the social sciences -- they prioritize on the desirability of impartiality, accuracy, objectivity and the validity of the information generated. Includedunder scientific-experimental models would be: the tradition of experimental and quasi-experimental designs; objectives-based research that comes from education; econometrically-oriented perspectives including cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit analysis; and the recent articulation of theory-driven evaluation.
The second class of strategies are management-oriented systems models. Two of the mostcommon of these are PERT, the Program Evaluation and Review Technique, and CPM, the Critical Path Method. Both have been widely used in business and government in this country. It would also be legitimate to include the Logical Framework or "Logframe" model developed at U.S. Agency for International Development and general systems theory and operations research approaches in this category. Two...