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Jun/16

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Memorial Week: Laura Leviton on Remembering Will Shadish (1949-2016) Evaluation Theory Pioneer

This is part of a series remembering and honoring evaluation pioneers in conjunction with Memorial Day in the USA (May 30).

My name is Laura Leviton, Senior Adviser for Evaluation at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former AEA president, as was Will Shadish. Will was a national treasure for evaluation, research methods, and mental health. He combined the very best that evaluation theory and practice have to offer, in a humane and pragmatic way. He was also the best friend and colleague one could wish. We evaluators are sometimes a hard-bitten, quarrelsome bunch, but quite a few of my colleagues burst into tears when they heard about Will’s death earlier this year.

Pioneering and Enduring Contributions:

Shadish

Will Shadish

As the lead author of our coauthored book, Foundations of Program Evaluation: Theorists and Their Theories (1991), Will stimulated a focus on what a theory of evaluation needed to be. Others were certainly describing evaluation approaches and related theory in the late 1980s, but Will drew upon his appreciation of the philosophy, sociology and psychology of science to produce the formal, deep analytical treatment that emerged. Advanced evaluation courses still use this book 25 years later.

Equally prominent if not more so, was Shadish, Cook and Campbell’s Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Generalized Causal Inference (2002). His work in meta-analysis and methodology gave insights about generalizability, construct validity, measurement, and causal inference.

Will’s practice efforts ranged from maternal and child health (praised by distinguished statistician Fred Mosteller within my hearing), to the care of people with chronic mental illness, to marital and family therapy (for which he received several awards), and beyond. Most noteworthy in these evaluations was Will’s constructive approach and his commitment to democratic process.

He led the work on Guiding Principles for Evaluators, incredibly important as a way to convey to the world what can reasonably be expected from an evaluation. During his AEA presidency he helped get AEA through terrible times as we teetered on the edge of insolvency.

I close with an analogy to Will’s professional life. The book, Pasteur’s Quadrant, presents fundamental understandings of phenomena while also offering highly practical information for societal betterment. Many of Will’s contributions do exactly that. Individual studies might focus primarily on theory, methods or practice, but together, they describe a life spent in Pasteur’s Quadrant.

Resources:

Chelimsky, E. & and William R. Shadish, W. R.(Eds.) (1997). Evaluation for the 21st century: A handbook. Sage.

Shadish, W. R. (1993). Critical multiplism: A research strategy and its attendant tactics. New directions for program evaluation1993(60), 13-57.

Shadish, W. R. “Evaluation theory is who we are.” American Journal of Evaluation 19.1 (1998): 1-19.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Memorial Week in Evaluation: Remembering and Honoring Evaluation’s Pioneers. The contributions this week are remembrances of evaluation pioneers who made enduring contributions to our field. 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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1 comment

  • Kristen Madsen · December 3, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    He was one of the best people anyone could hope to meet. I was his student and did undergraduate research with him at UC Merced. I emailed and visited him from 2005 to February of 2016. I will never forget him. He made a great impact on my life and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to have him as a mentor and friend. RIP
    LOVE,
    Kristen

    Reply

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