John LaVelle on Describing Evaluation

My name is John LaVelle.  One of the things that I have struggled with is describing what evaluation is and why it’s important.  Following up on that, many people ask about how evaluation is related to research.

Rad resource: Eva the Evaluator by Roger Miranda and Birgit Stadler.  This is a delightful and inexpensive book about a little girl named Eva and her father the evaluator.  Eva isn’t exactly sure what he father does, and so the book is about her father explaining evaluation in easily understandable terms, and Eva imagining herself engaged in the scenarios he described.  And, reading the book, I was pleasantly surprised with all the inside jokes, such as a cookbook titled “Preskill’s Chocolate Chip Cookies” and various evaluation theorists costumed as superheroes.

Hot Tip: Visualize the relationship like an hourglass.  I tend to be a visual person, and so I developed a picture of an hourglass with research on one side and evaluation on the other.  This picture illustrates how evaluation and research begin at different points and funnel to using the same methods to answer questions and analyze data.  They diverge again when it comes time to report on the outcomes (or processes) under study.

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to

13 thoughts on “John LaVelle on Describing Evaluation”

  1. Hi everyone,

    Hard to believe it’s been over seven years since I posted this image. Time moves so quickly!

    I’m updating my vita and trying to get a sense of where and how this image has been used. If you have found it helpful, please drop me a line and let me know where you used it.

    Thank you!

    1. Sharon Armstrong

      Hi John,
      Just letting you know that I am using your model to justify whether I believe a study on program evaluation to be research or evaluation. This is an open book exam question I have been given in my first subject of The Master of Evaluation at the University of Melbourne. I have found your model very useful. Hope you are well!

  2. The chart is excellent I have never seen someone able to provide insight on the differences between evaluation and research in such a clear and understandable way. Excellent piece of work.

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  7. John – love the graphic! And was following along well until I got to “Make Research Recommendations” versus “Recommendations Based on Key Questions”

    I wasn’t clear what you meant regarding “Make research recommendations” and whether this was recommendations for future research?

    The editor in me wanted to make the construction parallel, something like “Make research recommendations” and “Make programmatic recommendations” (assuming we’re following a paradigm that is comfortable with recommendation-making) or “Make evaluation recommendations.” But I wasn’t clear as to the appropriate interpretation.

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