The Consideration of a Constructivist Evaluation Framework in Adult Guidance Practice

Article excerpt

This Irish study is positioned within the wider international discourse on outcome evaluation in career guidance practice. The overall aim of the research was to consider the development of a best practice framework for the longitudinal tracking of individual progression in the Irish Adult Education Guidance Initiative (AEGI). The AEGI was established in 2000 by the Department of Education and Science (Department of Education and Science, 2000). Currently, there are 40 services supporting adults in their pursuit of education, training and employment (Philips & Eustace, 2009). While the sector is still relatively new, the need for appropriate quality assurance mechanisms to evaluate the long-term outcomes of guidance interventions for clients is paramount (National Guidance Forum, 2007a).

In this study, a critical analysis of the discourse on the measurement of progression within policy, practice and research unpacked some of the prevailing issues in the field (Kincheloe, 2008). One key concern is the need for quality assurance activities to be inclusive, democratic and reflect the realities and needs of individuals and society in a rapidly changing world (Killeen, 1996; Plant, 2005; Wannan & McCarthy, 2005; Young, 1990). The outcome of this research is the proposal of a constructivist evaluation framework that requires the involvement of all key stakeholders, including clients, to determine the range of outcomes for long-term measurement (Guba & Lincoln, 1989). Although the primary focus of this article is on the methodology and results, a synopsis of the literature provides a context for the research study.

Public policy is crucial to the development of career guidance services (Watts, Sultana & McCarthy, 2010). The consolidation of lifelong guidance into lifelong learning and employment policies is viewed as a major achievement in the delivery of guidance to individuals (Council of the European Union, 2008). Lifelong guidance refers to the provision of guidance throughout the lifespan to help citizens manage transitions between education, training and work as a consequence of the changing nature of labour markets (Sultana, 2008). Adult guidance in Ireland is now firmly embedded within European and international socio-political discourses on the role of guidance to achieve lifelong learning, labour market and social equity goals. The AEGI, as both an 'object' and an 'instrument' of public policy, is viewed as a measure to support Ireland's economic development, labour market efficiency and occupational mobility (Department of Education and Science, 2000; National Guidance Forum, 2007a; Watts, 1996).

The issues of quality assurance and quality standards in guidance have gained considerable momentum in recent years (National Guidance Forum, 2007a; Sultana, 2008). Quality is measured for a number of reasons, including political motivations, to secure funding, to measure learner progression, to improve services, to monitor and regulate outcomes, for strategic planning, for practice or policy development and to ensure the efficient use of public funds (Plant, 2004; Scheerens, Glas & Thomas, 2003; Sultana, 2008). Recommendations to deal with the diffuseness of quality standard approaches include the introduction of monitoring and feedback mechanisms, criteria for the establishment of performance targets, and the involvement of users in the design, implementation and evaluation of quality assurance systems (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2004). In dealing with some of the gaps identified by the OECD (2002), the development of an integrated framework for lifelong guidance in Ireland has been an important development but the emergence of formal structures has so far been limited (National Guidance Forum, 2007a). Although the AEGI has adopted the National Guidance Forum's 'Quality in Guidance' (2007b) standards for its services, the initiative still needs to move beyond the pursuit of purely 'tangible' outcomes as a measure of individual progression and quality of provision. …