The concept of organizational effectiveness is elusive, contested and particularly difficult to grasp in non-profit organizations. 1 Yet with funding constraints and calls for enhancing accountability mechanisms, there are increasing pressures to ‘tighten’ and ‘rationalize’ criteria and processes for evaluating such organizations. But what really goes on when evaluators set out to make judgements about the effectiveness of non-profit organizations?
Reviews of the literature on organizational effectiveness have tended to show it as falling within distinct camps, with little overlap between them. One of the most common distinctions has been between those theorists and researchers who view evaluation as an intendedly rational process, and those that view it as an essentially political process. 2 ‘Rational’ in this sense refers to formal processes for establishing that means lead to preferred ends. ‘Political’ refers to informal processes by which parties seek to gain support for, and avoid conflict over, their personal aims and ambitions.
The former school is represented primarily by those coming out of positivistic management science and professional evaluator backgrounds. Its representatives work with the assumption that facts about performance can be ascertained, and, while subsequent judgements may be fallible, they can be brought as close to the ‘truth’ as possible.
The majority of those working with a ‘political’ perception of the evaluation process tend to represent the post-modern schools of organizational theory. 3 They believe that evaluators and evaluatees often have different objectives, and that there is much that cannot be measured objectively. Therefore evaluation is simply a process in which parties attempt to negotiate an interpretation of reality in which the subjective views of the side with the most power tends to dominate.
What is missing in the literature is a point of view that considers the possibility that both perspectives on evaluation have some validity. Both ‘rational’ and ‘political’ elements can be at work at the same time during the evaluation process, but as yet there is little empirical research to show how this interweaving might occur. Accordingly, this chapter examines