Happy New Year! We’re Leslie Goodyear, Jennifer Jewiss, Janet Usinger, and Eric Barela, the co-leaders of the AEA Qualitative Methods TIG. All four of us are practicing evaluators with a passion for bringing the stories and experiences of evaluation stakeholders to the fore. For the past few years, as part of editing a book together, we have been exploring how qualitative inquiry and evaluation fit together and how to identify good practice in qualitative evaluation. What are criteria for quality in qualitative evaluation? As we were reviewing chapter drafts for the book, we had to come up with a way to determine the quality of the work represented by the authors. After many conference calls and email conversations, we developed a model for thinking about the elements of quality in qualitative evaluation.
Lesson Learned: High quality qualitative evaluation is grounded in a cyclical and reflective process that is facilitated by the evaluator. The following five elements make up the process:
- The evaluator first must bring a clear sense of personal identity and professional role to the process. It’s a matter of understanding who you are, what you know, and what you need to learn.
- The evaluator needs to engage stakeholders and build trusting relationships from the outset and throughout the evaluation.
- High quality evaluation relies on sound methodology, systematically applied, that is explicitly shared with stakeholders.
- Conducting quality evaluation can only be accomplished by remaining “true” to the data; in other words, hearing participants as they are, not how the evaluator wants them to be.
- Skillful facilitation of the process by the evaluator results in learning by all involved.
Lesson Learned: The elements in the model are not necessarily progressive or discrete. All the elements are at play in an evaluation and may cycle back on each other, interact with each other, or occur in a completely different order.
Lesson Learned: Although we don’t explicitly call out context as an element of the model, a strong, dynamic understanding of context is critical grounding for all high quality qualitative inquiry. Thus, context is embedded in all the elements in the model.
Rad Resource: More about this model and stories from our own practice of qualitative inquiry in evaluation can be found in the final chapter of our new book, Qualitative Inquiry in Evaluation: From Theory to Practice (2014, Jossey-Bass).
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Qualitative Evaluation Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from evaluators who do qualitative evaluation. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.