Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

The Limits and the Specific Instruments of Policy Evaluation 1

Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

The Limits and the Specific Instruments of Policy Evaluation 1

Article excerpt

Policy evaluation- definitions and concepts

This paperdeals with policy evaluation, regarded as a distinct and legitimate area of evaluation. The current literature on the subject, especially the academic one, concerned with evaluation theories, methods and techniques, seldom, if ever, makes this point. Usually, policy evaluation is either regarded as the less respectable relative of program evaluation, as there are too many variables in the process to allow control over them, or it is considered equivalent, explicitly or implicitly, with program evaluationfrom the point of view of the evaluators' tasks.

Policy evaluation is placed at the crossroad of several thematic areas: evaluation (most of the theoretical contributions in this area elaborate on program evaluation methods and techniques), policy/social policy analyses and social development. While scientific contributions authored by evaluators and evaluation theorists on the specific subject of policy evaluation are scarce, policy analyses texts are more generous in this respect, marking evaluation as an intrinsic phase of the policy cycle. However, the latter also do not indicate,oftentimes,the specifics of policy analyses and are confined to re-stating the principles, the approaches and the methods of program evaluations; these sources recall the basic distinctions in the evaluation field such as formative versus summative, input, output and outcome, experimental, quasi-experimental and non-experimental and so on. Policy analyses texts tend to be more concerned with the environment and the user end of the evaluation process: they stress that evaluation is a policy process itself and display more poignantlythe difficulties in performing rigorous analyses in the framework of the ever changing and complex policy-making arena. The social development textbooks and guides are closer to the approach taken here, of regarding policies and strategies as interventions that can be and should be measured and evaluated and offer practical advice but they miss some of the valuable points made by program evaluation literature, such as the emphasis placed by the latter on identifying the theory of the intervention prior to proceeding to its evaluation.

Some definitions are needed, not strictly for taxonomy purposes, but in an attempt to restrict the concepts used here. Throughout this paper, the meaning of policy is that of a large intervention, comprising legislative provisions, strategic documents, several programs, institutional set-ups and many other contextual arrangements. It is an intervention wider in scope than programs and projects, as the latter are usually defined (e. g. Matauan, 1999: 38).

Not all generally accepted definitions of policy point towards this meaning. For instance, Jenkins givesthe following definition: "a set of interrelated decisions taken by a political actor or group of actors concerning the selection of goals and the means of achieving them within a specified situation where these decisions should, in principle, be within the power of those actors to achieve"(1978: 15). Other popular definitions might be: "a policy is a set of ideas or a plan of what to do in particular situations that has been agreed officially by a group of people, a business organization, a government or a political party" (Cambridge dictionaries online). In the widestsense of the concept, policy can mean anything from a mere change in the legislative provisions, for instance the level of taxes, without any other additional arrangements or actions, to the strategy of a certain governmental cycle.

Most of the times, the current definitions of evaluation refer to program evaluation. For instance, perhaps the most widely read and quoted evaluation textbook available today states that «evaluation research is the systematic application of social research procedures for assessing the conceptualization, design, implementation, and utility of social intervention programs (Rossi, Freeman &Lipsey, 1993: 5). …

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