The Challenge of Studying Evaluation
Jean A. King
This chapter discusses why evaluation as a field has not
systematically studied its own theory and then examines
the Christie research in detail to highlight its procedures
and assumptions and the challenge of translating such
theory into practice.
It is awkward to be a program evaluator. On a personal level, people in social settings rarely grasp the one-sentence summary of what you do. Your parents may struggle to understand your livelihood even after years of detailed explanations. In professional contexts, the proud claim of being an evaluator can be equally challenging. On the one hand, practitioners in any number of fields—education, health care, social service, business, and so on—question spending money on an endeavor that smacks so clearly of the academy. On the other hand, colleagues in higher education question an enterprise so directly tied to the world of practice. The fact that even after forty-plus years as a field… “evaluators have no validated theories of evaluation” (Stufflebeam, 2001, p. 10) suggests a field that does not yet have its theoretical act together—surely an indicator of a field in need.
This chapter addresses the challenge of studying evaluation theory, first by discussing reasons why evaluation as a field has not systematically developed or tested theory. It then considers the traditional social science approach to generating evaluation theory, analyzing the Christie study (Chapter One, this volume) in detail to suggest the challenge of translating such theory into practice. The chapter ends with a recommendation for a more experience-oriented approach to theory development, an alternative directly tied to evaluation practice.
King and Stevahn (n.d.) offer six reasons that program evaluation theory remains a growth area.