Participatory Evaluation in Education: Studies in Evaluation Use and Organizational Learning

By J. Bradley Cousins; Lorna M. Earl | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Assessing Program Needs Using Participatory Evaluation: A Comparison of High and Marginal Success Cases
J. Bradley Cousins
Introduction
'Field centres' of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) are located in various regions of Ontario and are designed to help the Institute fulfil its tripartite mandate of graduate instruction, research, and field development, and to aid school districts in their efforts to implement Ontario Ministry of Education and Training policy. Centre faculty are in the unique and fortunate position of being able to offer their field development services without fee to school districts within their respective jurisdictions. This arrangement provides a highly suitable context for participatory evaluation activities. As a former member of OISE's complement of field centre faculty located at the Trent Valley Centre in east-central Ontario, I participated in many such projects over the years. In this chapter, I examine two projects, one considered by me to be highly successful, the other marginally so. Both studies employed a single model of participation, were conducted over a period of about 12-18 months, resulted in the production of a final report co-authored by myself and members of the respective communities of practice, and were completed well before data for the present study were collected. The following sets of questions provided the focus for research.
• What was the impact of the participatory approach to applied research? Were decisions based on the data? Did district staff learn from the data? What effect(s) did participation have on the primary users who collaborated on the project?
• What factors explained variation in impact? Did interaction between researchers and practitioners enhance impact? Did features of the research project predict use of the data? Which organizational features were related to the use of the data?

Author's Note: This research was completed while the author was on faculty at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. The research was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant # 410-92-0983). The opinions expressed within are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Council policy. The author thanks Anne Hogaboam-Gray and Jie Mei Li for their participation in the data collection and analysis phases of the project. Also, thanks is expressed to the school district personnel who helped to coordinate the data collection.

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