Thursday, January 25, 2007

UFE & The difference between Evaluation and Research

At the recent AFREA conference I was again reminded of what we are supposed to be doing in evaluation. Consider the word evaluation: It is about valuing something. Valuing for the purposes of accountability and for learning and improvement.

It is not just research, and although some people have indicated that they get irritated with our attempts at distinguishing evaluation from research, I think it is critically important to distinguish between research and evaluation.

Depending on which paradigm you come from, one might argue that research can be the same as evaluation. I don’t argue with that. What I do have a problem with is people approaching evaluations like research projects where the focus is all on “How do we collect evidence?” The methodology is critically important, agreed, and there is nothing that grates me more than seeing how people use poorly designed evaluation methodologies to collect “evidence”.

But evaluation is not just about how we collect information. Evaluation is supposed to take it a step further and make some evaluative judgments based on the data that was collected. Just describing your evaluation findings without saying what it means is senseless.

It is good and well if you find information about the level of maths capacity in rural schools interesting, but an evaluation will also go further and indicate whether the project is relevant, effective, efficient, has an impact and is sustainable or creates sustainable results. Without this additional “Valuing” judgments, an evaluation is only a research project that may increase our knowledge, but don’t help us to make decisions.

Something that may help more evaluations to be true evaluations is the Utilization Focused Evaluation approach of Michael Quinn Patton. It is all about how to ensure that an evaluation serves its intended purpose for the intended users. Go ahead – google Utilization Focused Evaluation and see how many hits come up. It literally is the biggest thing that has hit the Evaluation community in the past 30 years, yet many people are blissfully ignorant of this.

For those who commission evaluations, Patton specifically created a checklist that may be of value in making sure that evaluations are useful. It might need to be adapted for use in your specific setting, but it definitely asks a couple of pretty critical questions about our evaluations.

Go ahead… I dare you to read up more about UFE (Utilization Focused Evaluation) and not be excited about the possibilities that evaluation has!

Have A good day!

PS. I hope to post some more of my thoughts on the AfrEA conference over the next month or so!

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