Programme Evaluation: Can It Improve Human Resource Management Practice?

By Louw, Johann | SA Journal of Human Resource Management, September 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Programme Evaluation: Can It Improve Human Resource Management Practice?


Louw, Johann, SA Journal of Human Resource Management


Introduction

Evaluations in the corporate sector are seldom made public. Reports of studies about the effectiveness of training programmes, mentoring and coaching exercises, employee wellness interventions, leadership development, and other interventions, more often than not remain inhouse, and are not accessible to others outside the organisations that commissioned the studies. As a result, it is difficult to develop a knowledge base about these interventions. Without access to findings about them, it is impossible to synthesise or accumulate knowledge about good practices, dependable relationships, or strong effects. This volume, as the first collection of evaluations of human resource (HR) programmes in South Africa, is a major step to improve practice through evaluation. In this article I provide a critical reflection about the articles contained in this volume, identify common themes, and draw out potential contributions to human resource management.

The value of this special edition lies in:

* collecting these evaluations in a single volume for readers, that covers an area in which little evaluation has been undertaken

* containing user-friendly examples of how to go about evaluating HR programmes

* showing the variety of evaluation methods that can be used for evaluating HR programmes

* exhibiting the first examples of theory-driven evaluations in HR.

As a result of reading these articles with contemporary programme evaluation knowledge in mind, at least seven themes stand out:

* The authors follow a common approach (programme theory-driven evaluation), and this strengthens the usefulness of their work.

* All of the articles include careful consideration of programme activities, and this creates the possibility of getting to best practices.

* Literature (or research) reviews enable practitioners to accumulate practical knowledge of programmes.

* Human resource practitioners are not familiar with thinking in evaluation terms, and studies like these could make useful contributions to change this, and to provoke practitioners to think evaluatively.

* The evidence base for selecting specific HR interventions is generally quite low.

* Programme evaluation can play a significant role in planning HR interventions, and this is not sufficiently recognised in the field.

* As a transdiscipline, programme evaluation can enrich applied fields such as HR practice.

In the rest of this article I will expand on these themes, and argue more generally that programme evaluation reports of HR interventions, as described in the articles, can play a significant role in the improvement of practices in the field.

Current theoretical perspectives: A theorybased approach

The strength of all the studies included in this volume is that they stick to a programme theory-driven approach. Chen (1990, p. 415) gave a straightforward description of what programme theory is: '... a set of implicit or explicit assumptions of how the program should be organized and why the program is expected to work.' Rossi, Lipsey and Freeman (2004) expanded on these two aspects: what Chen calls programme organisation they call process theory. This includes all aspects of the implementation of the programme: its target population; how these individuals will be reached; how they interact with the programme facilities, personnel, administration, facilities; and other aspects of implementation. The second aspect of Chen's definition is the programme's impact theory. For Rossi et al. (2004): the cause and effect sequence maps the proximal and distal outcomes of the programme's desired ends.

The authors in this edition generally follow Donaldson (2007), who gave detailed accounts of the complexities and challenges of systematically following a particular approach to evaluations in the real world. Thus, this volume, in a sense, is an HR companion to Donaldson's more general work, and fills the gap in our understanding about what happens in evaluation practice in this field. …

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