J. Bradley Cousins and Lorna M. Earl
This is a book about change in schools and school systems. We began by building a case for a particular approach to change, one defined by the collaborative involvement of researchers and educational practitioners. We call the approach participatory evaluation and locate it within a conceptual landscape of teacher professionalism as inquirymindedness and organizations as learning entities as the backdrop, and teachers' joint work as the foreground. These fundamental elements, in our view, are key to sustained organizational improvement and educational reform. The purpose of this book has been to study closely a variety of applications of participatory evaluation and to critically assess their impact and viability as elements of the educational reform picture.
The authors contributing to this volume, all well-seasoned evaluators in their own right, have provided their own reflections about participatory evaluation within the context of their own original empirical investigations. Michael Huberman (chapter 7 of this volume) graciously provided a critical synthesis of a subset of these studies and shared with us his insights and interpretations. Marvin Alkin (personal communications, April 1993 and June 1993) similarly provided critical comments. Armed with this array of data and critical perspectives we now revisit the concept of participatory evaluation as an approach to educational change. Our purpose is not only to take stock of what we know, but to consider what that knowledge says about the future of collaborative research in schools.
'Given that decision making in educational organizations is necessarily diffuse, it seems desirable that all parties involved in or affected by decisions share a common information base, such as that provided by an evaluation' (Burry, Alkin and Ruskus, 1985, p. 148). Participatory evaluation projects, through the direct involvement of educational practitioners in the process of constructing them, strive to provide that shared knowledge base.
The explicit goals of participatory evaluation, in our terms, are utilization-oriented; in Patton's words 'intended use by intended users' (1988, p. 14, emphasis in original).