Ernest R. House
The handling of potential stakeholder bias distinguishes
evaluation theorists from one another and from
Although it is the occupation of evaluation theorists to analyze and construct new concepts, evaluation practices display fewer differences than do evaluation theories. Practices are highly constrained by contextual and structural factors. That is, time, costs, and necessary interactions with clients push evaluators in similar directions, whatever their orientations. Furthermore, the turnover of practicing evaluators is rapid as people enter and leave the field, with many staying only a few years before moving on. Most entrants are not trained in evaluation. Many work part-time. They select a few ideas from the evaluation literature to guide their studies, not entire theories. Hence, practices do not resemble theories closely.
I do not underplay the differences separating the theories, but only observe that practices differ less than the theories might suggest. In reading Christie’s insightful empirical study of the relationship between evaluation theory and practice, my first surprise was how similar the theorists’ positions toward practice are. All the theorists’ positions are grouped along one side of the stakeholder involvement dimension, meaning that all strive to involve stakeholders in their studies to some degree. Six of the eight lie in the same quadrant, grouped in the same space along the method proclivity dimension, meaning that the theorists design studies based on considerations other than preordained method.
A second surprise was to see how my position differs from Fetterman’s, considering that we both embrace social justice considerations. Christie is astute in explaining the difference. She notes that Fetterman advocates involving stakeholders in the actual conduct of the evaluation to the greatest degree feasible, giving them a role in all aspects of the evaluation. By contrast, I suggest involving the greatest range of relevant stakeholders,