Reflections on Constructivism Week: Sensemaking as theory development by Amy Jersild

Greetings! My name is Amy Jersild, Doctoral Scholar at Western Michigan University (WMU), an evaluator working in the international development sector, and currently a student in Dr. Michael Harnar’s Qualitative Research Methods in Evaluation course at WMU. We have been reading The Constructivist Credo by Yvonna S. Lincoln and Egon G. Guba (2013) in class, and I would like to share my thoughts with you on one of the 130 conjectures they put forward for contemplation.

The authors devote several conjectures to sense-making, describing it as an act of construal. “Making sense of something means organizing it and rendering it into apparently comprehensible, understandable and explainable forms (giving it form and substance) so that it is possible to cope with it, turning it from a random congeries of sense impressions into something that can be ordered and fitted into a larger conceptual structure, theory, discipline, or philosophy (most of which will have local, or perhaps only personal, significance)” (p. 45).

A recent class exercise focused on interviewing evaluators attending the Evaluation 2019 conference in Minneapolis about values. Maybe you were one of them! The data we collected identified a range of values held by those interviewed, including honesty, transparency, integrity, responsiveness and openness to learning. Integrity was a value cited often by interviewees, and supported by stories of their experiences, many related this value to both truthfulness to the data and truthfulness in engaging with the donor or commissioning organization.

Our fellow evaluators identified and interpreted this value as part of their own sense-making activity based on their experience during interviews. As part of our research, we engaged in the analysis of the data through coding, sense-making and the “turning it into something that can be ordered and fitted into a larger conceptual structure,” and, ideally as Lincoln and Guba note, contribute to the building of theory of some level of significance.

Lessons Learned:

It is noted that many of the values expressed by interviewees are found in the AEA Guiding Principles and the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation’s Program Evaluation Standards. Yet the strong link between experience and values as described in the data may lead to theorizing about how professional values are adopted and the role lived experience plays as compared to professional guidance received.

The building of theory about evaluation from qualitative research is an exciting endeavor that could lead to greater understanding about how we work as evaluators, with implications to further grow and strengthen the field. The sense-making involved in qualitative analysis, as described by Lincoln and Guba, is an important part of this process.

Rad Resource: The Constructivist Credo

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Reflections on Constructivism Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 are from Michael Harner’s students in the Interdisciplinary PhD in Evaluation program at Western Michigan University and are reflections on Yvonna Lincoln and Egon Guba’s conjectures on constructivism described in their book The Constructivist Credo. 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.

1 thought on “Reflections on Constructivism Week: Sensemaking as theory development by Amy Jersild”

  1. Dr. Sondra LoRe

    Thank you for your thoughtful post-Amy! I am very excited about this week’s collection of AEA posts. Kudo to Dr. Michael Harnar!

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