The Practice-Theory Relationship in Evaluation

By Christina A. Christie | Go to book overview

3
Fetterman-House: A Process Use
Distinction and a Theory

David Fetterman

Theories of action and use shed light on empowerment
evaluation as a specific approach and may be enabling
tools in our discourse about the role of theory and
practice in the field as a whole
.

The conundrum of linking theory and practice in evaluation is common to many fields, including education, law, and medicine. The focus of this discussion is Fetterman’s empowerment evaluation (2001) and House and Howe’s deliberative democratic evaluation (2000) approaches. Both of these approaches are associated with promoting social justice. However, the differences between the two in practice reveal as much about the nature of our discourse about theory in the field of evaluation as they do about these specific forms of evaluation.

This brief discussion first situates the comparison in a multidimensional context, because there are many ways to categorize and sort theoretical approaches. In this multidimensional context, the role of process use is discussed to highlight the distinction between Fetterman’s and House’s theoretical approaches. An authentic and meaningful exploration into the theory-practice relationship in an empowerment evaluation requires attention to program staff members and participant practice. They practice contingent decision making (Mark, 2002; Mark, Henry, and Julnes, 2000) every day, based on local circumstance and conditions—comparing the ideal with the real. How they employ theories of action and use sheds light on empowerment evaluation as a specific approach and may be an enabling tool in our discourse about the role of theory and practice in the field as a whole.


A Multidimensional Context

Goethe wrote about how the world could be turned upside down and our roles reversed with a simple twist of fate. Although I agree with the Christie analysis, Chapter One, this volume; Christie, 2001), I am struck by how

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