Understanding Evaluation Theory and
Its Role in Guiding Practice: Formal,
Folk, and Otherwise
The author makes a final comment on the empirical study
of evaluation theory and practice.
Evaluation is a dynamic and process-oriented discipline, distinguished from other academic fields by the continuous interplay between the theoretical and the practical. Many who conduct evaluations have not been formally exposed to the theoretical models that are intended to guide evaluation practice (Christie, Chapter One, this volume). In fact, King (forthcoming) suggests that many evaluators are “accidental evaluators”—namely, people trained in other disciplines who find themselves responsible for conducting evaluations in their organizations.
The study I conducted indicates that the statistical fit between theorists’ and everyday evaluators’ practice is weak. These findings support the presumption that the approaches used by everyday evaluators are not easily aligned with the constructs that we assume to be our conceptual terrain. As Datta (Chapter Two) thoughtfully discusses, the few empirical studies that have been conducted on the relationship between evaluation theory and practice are consistent with my results. For example, Chandler (2001) found, “Our respondents talked about values in evaluation: utilizationfocused, commitments to pluralism, responsiveness to clients and stakeholders; they talked about knowledge construction, honoring multiple realities, seeking more democratic and inclusive principles, seeking social justice for those without a voice; but evaluation theory did not overly influence the way most approached their practice” (p. 3).
Nevertheless, people do act on conceptions they have about what they are doing. These conceptions and assumptions are, in essence, implicit