Gov’t Eval TIG Week: Ted Kniker on Defining Government Evaluations: Findings from Evaluation 2015

Hello Everyone! I’m Ted Kniker, Senior Vice President of Enlighteneering, and Chair of AEA’s Government Evaluation Topical Interest Group (TIG). During our 25th anniversary year, the TIG sponsored a lively reflection on What is “Government” Evaluation from a multi-cultural perspective? The term “government evaluation” can mean so many different things.

Lessons Learned:

  • For example does it mean “federal, state or local?”  The TIG was originally started 25 years ago as a State and Local Government group, and has expanded to include evaluators from federal government, evaluation contractors, non-profit evaluators affected by government policies and practices and as well as managers in various organizations responsible for issues of organizational performance.
  • Does it mean funded, sponsored, or conducted?  The think tank session attendees agreed that a government evaluation focuses on a program that is either funded by or administered by a public sector entity. However, we struggled with whether a definition like that is still too limiting or even needed. When the ideas of policy and usage are introduced, government evaluation quickly includes a much larger universe of projects and evaluators.
  • What does it mean internationally?  As part of the discussion we learned from our friends from Japan that government evaluation means evaluating the government, and looking particularly for its inefficiencies. While many of us see government as context, others define it as the evaluand. We were reminded of the broadness of the term.
  • What does the definition mean for the populations being evaluated? Does it carry connotations that affect credibility, validity, and participation? The group agreed that government evaluation requires the same standards of excellence in practice of any evaluation. But one of the populations that seem to go unchecked, is ourselves. A question that generated a lot of reflection was, when we conduct an evaluation in a government context, do we consider ourselves government evaluators? While members of other methodological and contextual groupings often refer to themselves in those terms (e.g. qualitative evaluation has qualitative evaluators), why not government?

Lesson Learned: Government Evaluation is inclusive.  The attendees agreed that evaluators may have very narrow definitions of what government evaluation is and whether it applies to them, but that in reality it is far more expansive, has greater reach, and can include multiple contexts, evaluands, and methodologies. Far more evaluations can influence or be influenced by the government evaluation context. Therefore, government evaluation is a larger contextual group than might initially be thought. Have you worked in a government evaluation context but haven’t participated in the Government Evaluation TIG or attended the Government Evaluation TIG sponsored sessions? If so, we’d like to hear from you, or better yet, come join us! Here is our LinkedIn link:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Gov’t Eval TIG Week with our colleagues in the Government Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our Gov’t Eval 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


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