Michael Quinn Patton on Evaluation and Politics

My name is Michael Quinn Patton and I am an independent evaluation consultant based in Minnesota but working worldwide. I have had the honor and privilege of participating in and presenting at every Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute since it began 20 years ago. A lot has changed in evaluation over the last two decades but one thing remains constant: Evaluation is a political activity. The Social Justice theme of this year’s conference highlighted the political nature of evaluation, but politics plays some part in all aspects of evaluation.

Lesson Learned: Evaluation is NOT political under the following conditions, all of which must be met:

  • No one cares about the program.
  • No one knows about the program.
  • No money is at stake.
  • No power or authority is at stake.
  • And, no one in the program, making decisions about the program, or otherwise involved in, knowledgeable about, or attached to the program, is sexually active. (Patton, M.Q., 2008, Utilization-Focused Evaluation, p. 537)

Hop Tip: Be prepared to deal with politics as a professional

The Joint Committee Standards call on evaluators to be politically sophisticated. Contextual Viability: Evaluations should recognize, monitor, and balance the cultural and political interests and needs of individuals and groups.”

The AEA Guiding Principles call for evaluators to exercise “Responsibilities for General and Public Welfare: Evaluators articulate and take into account the diversity of general and public interests and values that may be related to the evaluation.”

Lesson Learned: Beyond Neutrality

Enter the political fray from a strong values base. In a classic article distinguished evaluation pioneer Bob Stake articulated what evaluators care about:

  1. We often care about the thing being evaluated.
  2. We, as evaluation professionals, care about evaluation.
  3. We advocate rationality.
  4. We care to be heard. We are troubled if our studies are not used.
  5. We are distressed by underprivilege. We see gaps among privileged patrons and managers and staff and underprivileged participants and communities.
  6. We are advocates of a democratic society.

Rad Resource: “How Far Dare an Evaluator Go in Saving the World?” Bob Stake. American Journal of Evaluation, Vol. 25, No. 1, 2004, pp. 103–107.

Lesson Learned: Everybody’s got to serve somebody.  Know whose interests you serve in an evaluation. Not sure about this? Minnesota native son Bob Dylan’s evaluation anthem makes it clear. Check it out.

Rad Resource: Bob Dylan singing “Gotta serve somebody” (music and lyrics)

Rad Resources:

  • Politics and Evaluation, Michael Quinn Patton, American Journal of Evaluation, February 1988; vol. 9, 1: pp. 89-94.

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.

2 thoughts on “Michael Quinn Patton on Evaluation and Politics”

  1. Pingback: Episode 4: (Don’t Fear) The Evaluator – Eval Cafe

  2. Alicia Moag-Stahlberg

    Thanks for the flashback to Dylan! I really like how you make your points – Great information as well.

    Best, Alicia

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