Alternative Approaches to Program Evaluation

Alternative Approaches to Program Evaluation

In Part One, we referred to the varying roles that evaluation studies can play in education, government, business, nonprofit agencies, and many related areas, and readers were introduced to some of the different purposes of evaluation. We hinted at some of the different approaches to evaluation, but we have not yet exposed the reader to these approaches. We will do so in Part Two.

In Chapter 4, we examine the factors that have contributed to such differing views. Prior efforts to classify the many evaluation approaches into fewer categories are discussed, and the categories that we will use in the remainder of this book are presented.

In Chapters 5 through 8, we describe four categories of approaches that have influenced evaluation practice. These general approaches include those we see as most prevalent in the literature and most popular in use. Within each chapter, we discuss how this category of approaches emerged in evaluation, its primary char- acteristics, and how it is used today. Within some categories, there are several major approaches. For example, participatory evaluation has many models or approaches. We describe each approach, including its distinguishing characteristics and contri- butions, the ways in which the approach has been used, and its strengths and weaknesses. Then, in Chapter 9, we discuss other themes or movements in eval- uation that transcend individual models or approaches, but that are important in- fluences on evaluation practice today.

Many evaluation books, often authored by the developer of one of the ap- proaches we discuss, present what Alkin (2004) has called “prescriptive theories” or approaches to evaluation. These books are intended to describe that approach in depth and, in fact, to suggest that the approach presented is the one that evalua- tors should follow. This book does not advocate a particular approach. Instead, we think it is important for evaluators and students studying evaluation to be famil- iar with the different approaches so they can make informed choices concerning

which approach or which parts of various approaches to use in a particular eval- uation. Each approach we describe tells us something about evaluation, perspectives we might take, and how we might carry out the evaluation. During this time of increased demands for evaluation in the United States and the world—what Donaldson and Scriven (2003) have called the “second boom in evaluation”—it is important for evaluators to be aware of the entire array of evaluation approaches and to select the elements that are most appropriate for the program they are evaluating, the needs of clients and other stakeholders, and the context of the evaluation.

110 Part II • Alternative Approaches to Program Evaluation

Alternative Views of Evaluation

Orienting Questions

1. Why are there so many different approaches to evaluation?

2. Why is evaluation theory, as reflected in different approaches to evaluation, important to learn?

3. What philosophical and methodological differences influenced the development of different approaches?

4. How have evaluation approaches been categorized by others? How does this book categorize evaluation approaches? What is the rationale for each?

5. What practical issues contribute to the diversity of evaluation approaches?

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