**3 min read**
I have known famous evaluation specialist Jennifer Greene since many years ago when I was still quite new to the evaluation profession. She has visited South Africa and I also had the privilege of serving with her on the Board of the American Evaluation Association (AEA) in 2005-2007. Our paths have crossed many, many times since, most recently at the European Evaluation Society Conference in Thessaloniki. Throughout all these years she has been the most humble, yet most insightful, caring and knowledgeable evaluation specialist I have ever known. Her beautiful personality complements the beauty of her many contributions to how we should think about, and do evaluation. In this post she highlights in a few brief paragraphs some of the most important issues we need to consider as evaluation specialists – a very important message for YEEs.
Top Tip. Make sure you recognize and internalize the multiple facets of evaluation as a social practice. The practice of evaluating social and educational programs is a complex task, as are most professional activities. Evaluation involves wise judgment about which evaluation approach(es) are most appropriate for the context at hand. Evaluation also requires technical expertise in inquiry design, data collection, data analysis and reporting. Technical expertise includes, for example, knowing when to insist upon using field-tested interview guides and psychometrically-sound questionnaires, and when the characteristics of a particular context are more important than remote indicators of measurement quality. In that particular context, measures must be adapted to fit the norms, language, and values of the context.
Beyond conceptual and methodological expertise, and perhaps even more central to the practice of evaluation, are its social and interpersonal dimensions. Fundamentally, evaluation is a social practice – envisioned and enacted through conversations and negotiations between the evaluator and (often) diverse stakeholders. The ways in which evaluators conduct these interactions matter to the character, quality, and ultimate effectiveness of the evaluation. Moreover, these evaluator actions and initiatives are strong purveyors of the values that are being advanced in the evaluation.
For example, with which stakeholders do evaluators consult on the key evaluation questions to be addressed in the study? Or the criteria to be used to make judgments of program quality? Whose voices matter? And, when the evaluator values the inclusion of diverse perspectives, how does she or he enable diverse stakeholders to authentically contribute their program priorities and views to the evaluation planning process?
As another example, of more everyday evaluation practice, how does the evaluator establish and communicate data collection activities and schedules? Who is respectfully consulted? What local priorities and norms are attended to in establishing data collection events? In addition, with whom are the results shared, and what spaces are provided for diverse stakeholder interpretation and meaning-making?
In short, evaluation is indeed a technical enterprise, but it is more fundamentally a social practice that, at its best, respectfully engages with the diversity of viewpoints, experiences, stances, and values that accompany the program targeted for evaluation.
Hall, J.N., Greene, J.C., & Ahn, J. (2012). Values-engagement in evaluation: Ideas, implications, and illustrations. American Journal of Evaluation, 33(2), 195-207.
Visse, M.A., & Abma, T.A. (Eds). (2018). Evaluation, care, and society: Dialogues between evaluators and care ethicists on a caring society. Evaluation and Society Series. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.