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The Practice-Theory Relationship in Evaluation

By Christina A. Christie | Go to book overview

2
Important Questions, Intriguing
Method, Incomplete Answers

Lois-ellin Datta

Only one in ten evaluators reports using any theory to
guide practice. Despite some methodological limitations,
triangulation with other studies suggests that Christie’s
results would generalize to many of the relatively
inexperienced, untrained persons now “committing”
evaluations
.

In Chapter One of this volume, Christie examines three questions: How do the reported practices of evaluation theorists configure empirically? How can these practices best be described and compared? And how does the reported practice of evaluation practitioners compare with the practice of evaluation theorists? Together, these questions are intended to fatten the fairly skinny empirical—as contrasted with the ten-ton speculative—literature on the relation between theory and practice. Implicit in her discussion is the thought that a reasonably close connection between evaluation theory and practice would be a good thing, together with a splendid curiosity about which theories of evaluation may be most often realized in evaluation practice. Benefits of greater empirical information are expected to include refinement of theories, development of alternative approaches, advanced conceptions of the relation between theory and practice, and increased understanding of the effect of factors such as context on practice.

One’s intuition says there has got to be some relation between theory and practice. Most of us can think of instances where practice may have come first. For example, dissatisfaction with the black box approach of some early evaluations contributed to implementation studies such as those by Stalling and her colleagues of the follow through models. The implementation studies in turn contributed to program logic approaches. We can also think of instances where theory may have come first. For example, Scriven’s articulation of the functions of formative and summative evaluation demonstrably led to widespread adoption of this framework for sorting out what evaluators do in different circumstances. And we can recall instances that seem like a co-evolution. For example, it was observed that

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