CP TIG Week: Evaluation as Social Intervention by Jeff Sheldon

I’m Jeff Sheldon, 2018 Chair of the Community Psychology TIG.  Today I want to discuss why I view evaluation as a social intervention in keeping with the principles of community psychology and with our 2018 conference theme, Speaking Truth to Power.

It is my contention that evaluation’s best present use is as a social intervention.  You might disagree, but my values orientation, as seen through the lens of community psychology has always been toward using evaluation for social justice, emancipation, and eliminating oppression and marginalization.  This is why in my own practice I naturally gravitate toward evaluation approaches in the relativist and ideological traditions.

I characterize evaluations with an ideological orientation as social intervention because they are foundational to development of individual and organizational empowerment and self-determination.  Social interventions ensure individuals and groups have the power to influence the direction of their lives and their social institutions.

Rad Resource: Bennett, E. M. (1987). Social intervention: Theory and practice. In E. M. Bennett (Ed.), Social intervention: Theory and practice (pp. 13-28). Queenston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.

In Bennett’s (1987) construction of social intervention, the target of an intervention’s effort is social structure (e.g., law, politics, and economy) rather than individual (e.g., judge, legislator, and CEO) behavior within that structure.

RAD Resources: Crossman, A. (2017). Social structure defined: An overview of the concept. Retrieved from: https://www.thoughtco.com/social-structure-defined-3026594.

As defined by sociologist Ashley Crossman (2016), social structure is the organized set of social institutions and patterns of institutionalized relationships that together compose society. Social structure is both a product of social interaction and directly determines it, is not immediately visible to the untrained observer, but is always present and affects all dimensions of human experience within society.

Bennett concludes by noting that the success of a social intervention is ultimately judged by the degree to which there has been movement to reduce oppressive conditions, and whether the strategies employed are creating social processes and structures which provide the marginalized person with greater access to goods, services, and movement toward a psychological sense of well-being.  In other words, evaluation as social intervention is an emancipatory process which identifies and eradicates factors contributing to disempowerment (i.e., lack of knowledge, lack of influence, lack of skills, lack of self-efficacy, and fear) and increases individual self-determination through a sense of connectedness to a larger social collective.   

Hot Tip: Given our zeitgeist the dual rationales of empowerment and self-determination compels use of evaluation as a social intervention.  Yes, evaluation used in this way has an overt political agenda of changing power differentials, but if you are concerned with enhancing peoples’ decision-making power and helping them restore control over their lives then consider collaborative, participatory, participatory action research, community-based participatory research, or empowerment evaluation as your preferred approach in the relativist and ideological evaluation traditions.  Help them speak truth to power. 


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating CP TIG Week with our colleagues in the Community Psychology Topical Interest Group. The contributions all week come from CP TIG members. 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.

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