Reflections on Constructivism Week: The Constructivism of Everyday Evaluation by Zach Tilton

I am Zach Tilton, an evaluator and a doctoral student at Western Michigan University in the Interdisciplinary PhD in Evaluation program. Pursuing a PhD in evaluation while working as an evaluator allows me to integrate class insights to enhance my work and work experiences to ground my studies.

This interplay between theory and practice was inescapable when reading Yvonna S. Lincoln and Egon G. Guba’s The Constructivist Credo—a collection of bold and curious conjectures derived from the meta-physics (axiology, ontology, epistemology, and methodology) of the constructivist inquiry paradigm.

The following are some conjectures that speak to my work with Everyday Peace Indicators, an organization that mainstreams participatory evaluation to improve the relevance and effectiveness of peacebuilding programs.

Lincoln & Guba suggest that “Human beings experience an inchoate world, a buzzing, bumbling confusion, a confounded surround, that challenges their very survival….” and that this survival depends on the ability to “provide a store of sensory memories which the individual processes into forms that seem to “make sense” … by means of a semiotic organization—an assemblage of signs and symbols.”

These signs and symbols, what we refer to as indicators, are utilized by everyone regardless of context on an everyday-basis for perceptual evaluation—the unconscious evaluative reasoning that individuals and communities use to make micro-determinations of value to guide everyday decision-making. We work with partners in fragile and conflict affected communities to identify and analyze tacit indicators of perceptual, everyday evaluation and translate them into explicit indicators for inferential, formalized design, monitoring, and evaluation purposes to address what Lincoln & Guba refer to as the “crisis of representation” in peacebuilding evaluation.

Lesson Learned: Criteria, standards, and indicators of successful peacebuilding are often constructed by the voice of a privileged class of evaluation and peacebuilding ‘scientists’ and these indicators in turn resonate back to the etic or outsider values projected by this voice, as opposed to emic or insider values.

Lesson Learned: Given indicators represent the values of the voice that shape them, peacebuilding indicators can be viewed as the constituent elements of peace paradigms who construct them. Lincoln & Guba contend “Different paradigms are likely to highlight radically different problems; indeed, what is a problem in one paradigm may not be so considered in another.”

Hot Tip: Lincoln and Guba invite evaluators to ask: “By what right does an inquirer make statements about others (putatively representing their views, culture, condition, and so forth), especially about those others who do not have access to power structures that may be making policy decisions that directly impact on their lives?”

Rad Resources:

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.

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