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Category Archives: Program Design
After another blogging hiatus, the battle between good and eval continues. Or at least my blog is coming back online as the American Evaluation Association’s Annual Conference in San Antonio (November 10-14) quickly approaches.
I remember that twenty years ago evaluation was widely considered the enemy of good because it took resources away from service delivery. Now evaluation is widely considered an essential part of service delivery, but the debate over what constitutes a good program and a good evaluation continues. I will be joining the fray when I make a presentation as part of a session entitled Improving Evaluation Quality by Improving Program Quality: A Theory-Based/Theory-Driven Perspective (Saturday, November 13, 10:00 AM, Session Number 742). My presentation is entitled The Expanding Profession: Program Evaluators as Program Designers, and I will discuss how program evaluators are increasingly being called upon to help design the programs they evaluate, and why that benefits program staff, stakeholders, and evaluators. Stewart Donaldson is my co presenter (The Relationship between Program Design and Evaluation), and our discussants are Michael Scriven, David Fetterman, and Charles Gasper. If you know these names, you know to expect a “lively” (OK, heated) discussion.
If you are an evaluator in California, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Hawaii, any other place west of the Mississippi, or anywhere that is west of anything, be sure to attend the West Coast Evaluators Reception Thursday, November 11, 9:00 pm at the Zuni Grill (223 Losoya Street, San Antonio, TX 78205) co-sponsored by San Francisco Bay Area Evaluators and Claremont Graduate University. It is a conference tradition and a great way to network with colleagues.
More from San Antonio next week!
George Bernard Shaw quipped, “If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.” However, economists should not be singled out on this account — there is an equal share of controversy awaiting anyone who uses theories to solve social problems. While there is a great deal of theory-based research in the social sciences, it tends to be more theory than research, and with the universe of ideas dwarfing the available body of empirical evidence, there tends to be little if any agreement on how to achieve practical results. This was summed up well by another master of the quip, Mark Twain, who observed that the fascinating thing about science is how “one gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”
Recently, economists have been in the hot seat because of the stimulus package. However, it is the policymakers who depended on economic advice who are sweating because they were the ones who engaged in what I like to call data-free evaluation. This is the awkward art of judging the merit of untried or untested programs. Whether it takes the form of a president staunching an unprecedented financial crisis, funding agencies reviewing proposals for new initiatives, or individuals deciding whether to avail themselves of unfamiliar services, data-free evaluation is more the rule than the exception in the world of policies and programs. Continue reading
Theories are like bellybuttons-everybody has one and all are surprisingly different. Last Sunday Scott Atran and Jeremy Ginges wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in which they described their research on beliefs about conflict and peace in the Middle East. In brief, they argued that what many outsiders consider rational and logical solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, insiders consider irrational and illogical. The reason has largely to do with sacred beliefs. In spite of the name, these are not religious beliefs, per se, but rather any deeply held beliefs that sit at the core of our world views and are highly resistant to change.
In an earlier post I described beliefs in general as a pile of pick-up sticks, with the most resistant to change-the sacred beliefs-at the bottom of the pile. Accordingly, altering sacred beliefs in any significant way will disturb all the rest. At best this is exhausting, at worst traumatic.
Given the variety of beliefs that abound regarding social problems and solutions, it seems that program designers and policymakers are always treading upon someone’s sacred beliefs. One of the practical questions we have been wrestling with is how to help groups of people with disparate world views reach consensus about programs and policies. With the approach that we have been developing, we engage a broad range of stakeholders in a simple, iterative process in which they reveal what they believe and why.
When we are convinced of something, we believe it. But when we believe something, we may not have been convinced. That is, we do not come by all our beliefs through conscious acts of deliberation. It’s a good thing, too, for if we examined the beliefs underlying our every action we wouldn’t get anything done.
When we design or evaluate programs, however, the beliefs underlying these actions do merit close examination. They are our rationale, our foothold in the invisible; they are what endow our struggle to change the world with possibility. Continue reading