By: Ramon Crespo – European Evaluation Society
I agree with the generally accepted idea that evaluation is related to change. For example:
- Evaluations can discover how a given situation has changed due to a particular intervention.
- Evaluations can make recommendations for improvement (that is, for change) of the intervention under study.
- Finally, the people involved in an evaluation process can change as a result of the evaluation journey. At the end of the day, they will know more about their project, their organization or even themselves.
Taking this into account, we probably all agree that evaluation should be grounded in rigorous (and therefore systematic) methodological approaches, and be connected with different dimensions of change.
But, what if an evaluation that makes a difference is not only describing or suggesting change? What if evaluations that make a difference are those that create conditions for change?
Let’s imagine that an evaluation of a needle exchange program discovered the program helped to reduce HIV transmission in prisons. Let’s also imagine that the evaluation revealed inefficient distribution of clean needles among drug dependent inmates. A good evaluation, in its final report, would describe the program’s harm reduction achievements (using rigorous methododology), and provide recommendations for adopting better needle distribution processes (e.g. needle vending machines).
So far so good. However, I cannot help thinking that an evaluation that makes a difference would go one step farther by contributing to creating conditions that make recommended changes viable within a particular context.
Evaluations can create conditions for change in many different ways:
- By giving a voice to those who don’t usually get a chance to express their views;
- By challenging program owners with uncomfortable questions; driving them towards the next stage in their organizational development;
- By encouraging discussion of findings among stakeholders, using an open format (e.g. workshop) geared towards promoting change rather than presenting a closed report based on the interpretations of a single ‘expert’ .
At some point, any good evaluation can be followed by relevant and significant change, especially when the stakeholders are strongly committed to transparency and improvement. But maybe the point here is that “evaluations that make a difference” are those that carry a toolkit consisting of attitudes, knowledge and skills that help the evaluator to be a real agent of change.
What do you think?
Do you believe that stories should be selected according to whether or not they present evaluations that have intentionally created conditions for change?
I’d be interested in your opinion and welcome your comments.