Evaluation as intervention Part 2

Educational research [and evaluation] can never be value-free. To the extent it approaches value-freedom in its self-perception, it is to that extent dangerous…[and] in fact…useless

Kenneth Howe

What values should evaluation (then) promote? The deliberative democratic model for evaluation…intentionally insures that the interests of all stakeholders, specifically those of the powerless and the poor, are respectfully included. And it prescribes procedures by which stakeholders interests are articulated, shared, and advanced in evaluation, even when, or perhaps especially when, they conflict.

These procedures rest on three inter-related principles: inclusion, dialog, and deliberation. Inclusion means that the interests of all legitimate stakeholders are included in the evaluation. Dialog (among stakeholders) is offered as the process through which the real or authentic interests, as compared to the perceived interests, of diverse stakeholders are identified. And deliberation is the rational, cognitive process by which varying, even conflicting stakeholder claims are negotiated. These may be claims of values, interpretations of evaluation results, or action implications. Deliberation means that all such claims are subject to reasoned discussion, with evidence and argument.

Specifically, 10 questions are offered to guide the deliberative democratic evaluator: (1) Whose interests are represented? (2) Are major stakeholders represented? (3) Are any major stakeholders excluded? (4) Are there serious power imbalanced? (5) Are there procedures to control power imbalances? (6) How do people participate in the evaluation? (7) How authentic is their participation? (8) How involved is their interaction? (9) Is there reflective deliberation? (10) How considered and extensive is the deliberation?

(The challenge to ideologically-oriented approaches is that) Many evaluators and evaluation commissioners…especially with today’s infatuation with technocratic ideas about public accountability, reject out of hand a value-committed stance for evaluation. Instead, these critics believe that standards of impartial objectivity, attained via excellence of method, are needed to support contemporary accountability concepts like performance indicators, results-based management, and evidence-based decision making, all part of the current “climate of control”.

Also problematic are the meanings of such lofty ideals as democracy itself, inclusion, social justice, equity, empowerment, self-determination, along with the meanings of such processes as participation, dialog, deliberation, and cultural responsiveness. These concepts must be specifically and contextually defined if democratic approaches to evaluation are to gain any practically meaningful purchase in the field.

Evaluation, Democracy, and Social Change, The SAGE Handbook of Evaluation

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