AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

Aug/12

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Gisele Tchamba on Learning the Difference between Evaluation and Research

Hello, I am Gisele Tchamba, a PhD candidate in the Interdisciplinary PhD in Evaluation program (IDPE) at Western Michigan University. During the three years I spent in this program I came to understand that knowing the difference between evaluation and research matters. I found myself defining evaluation and explaining the difference to people in various disciplines.

Lessons learned:

  • Know the difference. To become good evaluators, students with social science background must learn to distinguish between evaluation and research. I came to realize that practicing evaluation does not preclude doing pure research. On the contrary, the methods are interconnected but the aim is different. Therefore after I have learnt and understood the difference between the two, I developed a personal method to lighten the burden of explaining the difference by getting two imaginary hats (researcher and evaluator), that I switch on and off as I do evaluation/research or explain to people what evaluation is and how it differs from research.
  • The burden of explaining. Many people in academia vaguely know the meaning of evaluation. Those who think they do mistake evaluation for assessment in education. Whenever I meet with people whose understanding of evaluation is limited to educational assessment, I use Scriven’s definition and emphasis words like “value, merit, and worth”. This usually brings forth expression like “oooh” that is usually followed by their desire to learn more. So I give Coryn’s definition “Evaluation is driven by the need to make informed, defensible, decisions and the desire to impose classifications regarding quality or value…..” Then I explain that social science research is a truth seeking activity aimed at contributing to existing knowledge or generating new knowledge, or for application to some specific problem related to human action and interaction and does not have the burden or rendering judgment of merit or worth.

Hot Tip – Distinguishing between evaluation and social science research:

  1. Theoretical and practical experiences are helpful ways to distinguish between the two disciplines. The IDPE curriculum prepares students to do both evaluation and research, e.g. research methods courses that are required for the mastering of evaluation methodology are actually social science research methods.
  2. Extensive reading of evaluation literature helps to see the difference. I also like Trochim’s definition of evaluation found in his evaluation of Scriven minimalist theory, “Evaluation is a profession that uses formal methodologies to provide useful empirical evidence about public entities (such as programs, products, performance) in decision making contexts that are inherently political and involve multiple often conflicting stakeholders, where resources are seldom sufficient, and where time-pressures are salient.”

Resources:

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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