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QUAL Eval Week: Leslie Goodyear, Jennifer Jewiss, Janet Usinger, and Eric Barela on The Role of Context in Qualitative Evaluation

Hi again – Leslie Goodyear, Jennifer Jewiss, Janet Usinger, and Eric Barela, the co-leaders of the AEA Qualitative Methods TIG, back with another lesson we learned as we co-edited a book that explores how qualitative inquiry and evaluation fit together. Our last blog focused on the five elements of quality in qualitative evaluation. Underpinning these five elements is a deep understanding and consideration of context.

Lesson Learned: Context includes the setting, program history, and programmatic values and goals. It also includes the personalities of and relationships among the key stakeholders, along with the cultures in which they operate. In their chapter on competencies for qualitative evaluators, Stevahn and King describe this understanding as a sixth sense.

Lesson Learned: Understanding context was one of the driving forces in the early adoption of qualitative inquiry in evaluation. In their book chapter, Schwandt and Cash discuss how the need to explain outcomes – and therefore better understand program complexities and the experiences of participants – drove evaluators to employ qualitative inquiry in their evaluations.

Lesson Learned: Understanding context is not always highlighted in descriptions of high quality evaluations, perhaps because it is a basic assumption of effective evaluators who use qualitative inquiry in their practice.

9780470447673.pdfRad Resource: Further discussion about the importance of understanding context appears in several chapters of our new book, Qualitative Inquiry in Evaluation: From Theory to Practice (2014, Jossey-Bass), an edited volume featuring many of our field’s experts on qualitative evaluation.


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Qualitative Evaluation Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from evaluators who do qualitative evaluation. 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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  • A resurgence of qualitative methods - The Measurement Group LLCThe Measurement Group LLC · February 23, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    […] In my professional life, my work is multidisciplinary, but mostly bridges the worlds of psychology (from my graduate training and professional licensure) and program evaluation (from years of postdoctoral experience and hands-on evaluation of healthcare and social services. Qualitative methods are “hot” now in evaluation too – the American Evaluation Association AEA 365 blog had a week recently dedicated to qualitative evaluation-related topics (January 2015) and has another one this week. […]


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