Evaluation

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Evaluation is systematic determination of merit, worth, and significance of something or someone using criteria against a set of standards. Evaluation often is used to characterize and appraise subjects of interest in a wide range of human enterprises, including the arts, criminal justice, foundations and non-profit organizations, government, health care, and other human services.

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Definition

The definition of systematic evaluation is often problematic and it can not be argued that evaluation does not need a definition. Practical problems are not due to a lack of a definition but rather are a result of attempting to define evaluation.

Within the last three decades there have been tremendous theoretical and methodological developments within the field of evaluation (Hurteau, Houle, & Mongiat, 2009)[1]. Despite its progress there are still many fundamental problems faced by this field as Davidson (2005) argues ‘unlike medicine, evaluation is not a discipline that has been developed by practicing professionals over thousands of years, so we are not yet at the stage where we have huge encyclopaedias that will walk us through any evaluation step-by-step’, or provide a clear definition of what evaluation entails (cited in, Hurteau, Houle, & Mongiat, 2009, p. 307). Using Davidson’s argument one can argue that a key problem that evaluators face is the lack of a clear definition of evaluation. Hurteau, Houle and Mongiat (2009, p. 307) observe that the lack of a clear definition may “underline why program evaluation is periodically called into question as an original process, whose primary function is the production of legitimate and justified judgments which serve as the bases for relevant recommendations.” However, Potter (2006)[2] postulates that the strict adherence to a set of methodological assumptions may make the field of evaluation more acceptable to a mainstream audience but this adherence will work towards preventing evaluators from developing new strategies for dealing with the myriad problems that programs face.

Datta (2006) states that “from an often huge body of relevant evaluations and reports, only about 10% of these reports” or less, are used by the evaluand’s (clients) (cited in, Hurteau, Houle, & Mongiat, 2009, p. 308). Fournier and Smith (1993) comment that, “when evaluation findings are challenged or utilization has failed, it was because stakeholders and clients found the inferences weak or the warrants unconvincing” (cited in, Hurteau, Houle, & Mongiat, 2009, p. 308). Some reasons for this situation, may be the failure of the evaluator to establish a set of shared aims with the evaluand (client), or creating overly ambitious aims, as well as failing to compromise and incorporate the cultural differences of individuals and programs within the evaluation aims and process (Reeve, & Peerbhoy, 2007)[3].

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