The Sage Handbook of Evaluation

Article excerpt

Shaw, Ian F. / Greene, Jennifer C. / Mark, Melvin M. (Eds.) (2006): The Sage Handbook of Evaluation Sage, 2006, 608 pp. Hardcover, £85.00 / $130.00 /euro 108.90 ( ISBN 978-0-7619-7305-8

Reviewed by Thomas Widmer

This handbook is certainly an ambitious enterprise, since "it is intended to offer a definitive, benchmark statement on evaluation theory and practice for the first decades of the twenty-first century" (p. 4). The editors continue: "In developing this Handbook, we strove to offer a coherent picture of the nature and role of evaluative inquiry in contemporary twenty-first century societies around the globe" (ibid.). At the end of this review, I will return to these goals but first, let me briefly present the content of the handbook. This summary will by no means reflect the substance of this extensive volume; the intention is just to give some ideas.

The handbook contains 26 chapters, authored or co-authored by 43 eminent scholars, organized along four main sections, namely:

- Role and purpose of evaluation in society,

- Evaluation as a social practice,

- The practice of evaluation, and

- Domains of evaluation practice.

In the introduction the editors of the handbook (Melvin M. Mark, Jennifer C. Greene and Ian F. Shaw) provide an overview of the field of evaluation in general, and an introduction into the scope and the structure of the handbook.

The first main section on the role and purpose of evaluation in society starts with a contribution by Eleanor Chelimsky on the relevance of evaluation in the political system of the USA, especially in three respects, namely accountability, development and knowledge purposes. Stewart I. Donaldson and Mark W. Lipsey highlight the practical relevance of theories (theory of evaluation practice, social science theory and program theory) in evaluation, by advocating a program theory-driven evaluation science approach. Patricia J. Rogers and Bob Williams discuss nine select evaluation approaches from the perspective of research in individual and organizational learning and organizational dynamics. In an intellectually challenging and thought provoking piece, Thomas A. Schwandt and HoIH Burgon explore the significance of lived experiences, and practices in and for evaluation. The next chapter, authored by Jennifer C. Greene, contains a rich and balanced discussion of democratically-oriented evaluation approaches (namely, democratic, deliberative democratic, participatory, critically, and culturally-contextually responsive evaluation). Peter Dahler-Larsen highlights in his contribution five factors that influence the field of evaluation: first popularization of evaluation, second organizational structures and processes, third the market, fourth the media, and finally fifth research.

The second main section entitled 'Evaluation as a social practice' is introduced by an article authored by Philip Davies, Kathryn Newcomer, and Haluk Soydan describing different aspects and roles of governments in the context of evaluation activities. Based on three vignettes illustrating the relevance and significance of social relations in evaluation practices, Tineke A. Abma calls for more attention to the diverse characteristics of social relations in evaluation. In a chapter contributed by John Stevenson and David Thomas, the focus lies on the interdependencies between evaluation on the one hand and historical, cultural, and disciplinary traditions on the other hand. Ove Karlsson Vestman and Ross F. Conner discuss three distinct positions on the relationship between evaluation and politics; the value-neutral, the valuesensitive, and the value-critical evaluator. Helen Simons provides an overview of various (and distinct) forms of codifications and institutionalizations with ethical concerns. In their contribution on utilization, J. Bradley Cousins and Lyn M. Shulha compare the state of research in evaluation utilization and knowledge utilization. …