We are Michael Quinn Patton, founder and original author of Utilization-Focused Evaluation, and Charmagne E. Campbell-Patton, Director of Organizational Development and Evaluation for our Utilization-Focused Evaluation consulting practice. We are father-daughter and evaluation partners.
A major challenge in designing and carrying out evaluations in these turbulent times is dealing with complexity. In working with intended users to consider these distinctions, it is illuminating to engage them in discussion about what aspects of what they do are relatively simple, relatively complicated, and relatively complex from their perspectives. Questions and designs can then be matched to these distinctions.
We face the same challenge in writing about utilization-focused evaluation, presenting the process as a series of sequential steps while also capturing the complex nature of the utilization-focused process as non-linear, interactive, dynamic, and adaptive. The utilization process is not neatly linear and sequential. There are interactions among the steps, feedback loops, recursive iterations, interrelationships, and interdependencies among those involved in the evaluation. For example, while identifying primary intended users occurs at the beginning of a utilization-focused evaluation, that process may be ongoing (Do we have the right intended users as evaluation questions emerge?) and new intended users have to be identified when there is turnover among those originally involved. In essence, the utilization-focused evaluator is asked to operate within two perspectives at the same time, one simple, stepwise and neatly linear, the other complexly interactive and dynamic. To manage this complexity, we have found it useful to be explicit about and follow the fundamental principles of utilization-focused evaluation, so that is how we have organized the new 5th edition of the book just published and launched as part of this year’s American Evaluation Association conference.
The new edition integrates Michael’s 50 years’ experience with Charmagne’s perspective as a second generation evaluator, bringing attention to emergent trends and issues with new questions and perspectives. Together we are committed to engaging in evaluation in ways that contribute to a more just and sustainable future. That has led to a complete rewrite and revision of the book.
Evolution of Utilization-Focused Evaluation
The 1st edition published in 1978 featured early research on factors consistently affecting use: (1) political considerations and (2) “the personal factor” — the presence of an identifiable individual or group of people who personally care about the evaluation and the findings it generates. Where such a person or group was present, evaluations were used; where the personal factor was absent, there was a correspondingly marked absence of evaluation impact.
The 2nd edition (1986) offered for the first time a definition of utilization: “intended use by intended users.” This focus proved to have implications for everything done in an evaluation and every decision made along the way. Working with primary intended users to enhance intended uses became the hallmark of utilization-focused evaluation.
The 3rd edition (1997) introduced process use. Up until that time the entire field had narrowly focused on use of findings. This idea of process use draws our attention to individual changes in thinking and behavior among those involved in the evaluation as a result of the learning that occurs during the evaluation process.
The 4th edition (2008) gave significantly increased attention to international and cross-cultural factors that affect use and brought systems thinking and complexity theory into utilization-focused evaluation.
The Ongoing Evolution of Utilization-Focused Evaluation
This new 5th edition for the first time presents and elaborates principles of utilization-focused evaluation. Principles guide application and adaptation. Principles connect theory with practice, questions with methods, and findings with follow-through actions. The 21st century has brought major changes in the world and, correspondingly, in the evaluation profession, like the global adoption of Sustainable Development Goals for Agenda 2030 that expresses a commitment to equity and sustainability. This new edition presents for the first time the role of utilization-focused evaluation in addressing issues of equity and sustainability in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and the global social justice uprising. As evaluators, we have a stake in having our evaluations used—and we have a stake in a more equitable and sustainable world. The implications for utilization-focused evaluation are substantial, dramatic, controversial, and forward-looking.
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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.