5 things you should know about evaluation. by Chris Lysy

1. Evaluation is not the same as research.

Evaluation generates improvements, judgments, and actionable learning about programs. Research generates knowledge about how the world works and why it works as it does.
Michael Quinn Patton

From a distance, research and evaluation look a lot alike. Both use qualitative and quantitative methods to gather evidence. They both analyze this data and report on findings.

But the difference is really all about intent. Evaluators and researchers use these methods and approaches for different reasons. And they produce different results.

2. Many evaluators don't know they're evaluators.

Evaluation is the process of determining the merit, worth, and value of things, and evaluations are the products of that process.
Michael Scriven

Evaluation is a meta-discipline, similar to statistics which you find emedded within all sorts of fields. Evaluation has a practical bent but is an incredibly diverse field with so many different intentions, uses, and methods. Even if they don’t all self-identify as such, you’ll find evaluators in non-profits, government agencies, businesses, and design firms.

3. Evaluation is based on logic.

Grounding evaluation in theories of change takes for granted that social programs are based on explicit or implicit theories about how and why the program will work.
The evaluation should surface those theories and lay them out in as fine detail as possible, identifying all the assumptions and sub-assumptions built into the program.
Carol Weiss

If you don’t understand what a project does, or what it is supposed to accomplish, how can you expect to understand if it’s successful? Identifying the underlying project logic (and sometimes helping to redesign the program if the logic is missing) is one of the important first steps for any evaluation.

4. Evaluation can create, or illuminate, underlying tension.

Culturally responsive evaluators honor the cultural context in which an evaluation takes place by bringing needed, shared life experience and understandings to the evaluation tasks at hand.
Henry T. Frierson, Stafford Hood, and Gerunda B. Hughes

There are many places where an evaluation can bring out or even create tension. Projects might feel threatened because of the real possibility that an evaluation could impact funding. Good evaluations will also look at the needs of the wider range of stakeholders impacted by a project.

Evaluation can be high stakes, which can make it emotionally tough work.

5. Evaluation can be really hard.

We need to accept the fact that what we are doing is measuring with the aim of reducing the uncertainty about the contribution made, not proving the contribution made.
John Mayne

Everyone loves certainty, but often that’s just not feasible. There are too many external influences to provide certainty within any evaluation. But through an evaluative process you can reduce the uncertainty.

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