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CECAN Seminar: We Ask Too Much And Too Little of Program Evaluators

Oct 11, 2017 | News

We’d like to extend our thanks to Professor Saville Kushner who gave an excellent talk on behalf of CECAN at the Food Standards Agency on 9th October. If you missed the seminar, you will find a synopsis and the recording available below.

In asking evaluators to define ‘success’ and ‘failure’ we ask too much – the range of views and criteria is too diverse and volatile to pin down; to limit the evaluator to measuring pre-specified results and to ignore life in programmes – aspirations, competitions, values, politics, humanity – is asking too little. We have, as a result, focused too hard on programme productivity and not enough on programme quality. But here we are. Over the past 20 years the field of evaluation has, arguably, advanced by shedding ideas and setting aside challenges and narrowed itself into a cul-de-sac of outcomes measurement and impact assessment – unwittingly cast itself as the outrider of public sector decline. As the austerity project nears its end, and as the country starts once again openly to question what counts as public value, is this an appropriate moment to return to Lee Cronbach’s (1980) seminal proposal to reform the field? Here is an extract from his Introduction which raises no less potent questions for us today, almost 40 years on:

“Evaluation has vital work to do, yet its institutions and its ruling conceptions are inadequate. Enamored of a vision that “right” decisions can replace political agreements, some who commission evaluations set evaluators on unrealistic quests. Others among them see evaluation chiefly as a means to strengthen the hand of the commissioning authority. Evaluators, eager to serve and even to manipulate those in power, lose sight of what they should be doing. Moreover, evaluators become enthralled by technique.”

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