The Practice-Theory Relationship in Evaluation

The Practice-Theory Relationship in Evaluation

The Practice-Theory Relationship in Evaluation

The Practice-Theory Relationship in Evaluation

Excerpt

An empirically derived comparative framework offers an
understanding of the similarities and differences between
eight theories of evaluation when they are applied .

Over the past thirty years eminent evaluation theorists have appealed for increased empirical knowledge of evaluation, based on the notion that such knowledge is necessary to explain the nature of evaluation practice (for example, Cousins and Earl, 1999; Stufflebeam and Shinkfield, 1985; Worthen and Sanders, 1973). By empirical knowledge , I mean experientially based knowledge acquired through formal study (Smith, 1983). Although an appeal for the empirical study of evaluation practice has been made repeatedly, it has met with little response.

Many evaluation scholars agree that the link between evaluation practice and theory is an area of much-needed inquiry (Cousins and Earl, 1999; Scriven, 1991; Shadish, Cook, and Leviton, 1991; Smith, 1993; Worthen, 1990) The benefits of the empirical study of current evaluation practice include, but are not limited to, generation of information necessary to refine current practice and develop alternative approaches to evaluation (Smith, 1993), advancement of conceptions about the connection between theory and practice, and increased understanding of the influence of context on the nature of evaluation practice.

I am indebted to the eight theorists for their participation in this study and to Marvin C. Alkin for his invaluable insight and thoughtful discussion that served as the inspiration for this study. This chapter is based on my doctoral dissertation: “What Guides Evaluation? A Study of How Evaluation Practice Maps onto Evaluation Theory” (University of California, Los Angeles, 2001).

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