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Reflections on Constructivism Week: Valuing whose values? by Valerie Marshall

Hello! My name is Valerie Marshall. I am a Project Manager at The Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University and a student in Michael Harnar’s Qualitative Research Methods in Evaluation class. Today, I would like to talk with you about the integral place of values in evaluation.

Values underlie the standards and criteria used to judge a program’s merit, worth, or significance and therefore play a central role in our work. We talk a lot about values related to an evaluand, but what about our own? As those who engage in valuing and value discussions, it is important to have some clarity about our own values. Engaging in the content of the constructivist paradigm helped me get more clarity on my values.

In their significant 2013 book, The Constructivist Credo, Yvonna Lincoln and Egon Guba, articulate a constructivist paradigm and its applicability to the field. This paradigm holds that there is no one way of “knowing”, that knowledge is situated and grounded in the lived experience of individuals, representing a social construction that can vary greatly among stakeholders and evaluators. From this vantage point, there is no single “truth”; and because values are inexctricably tied to one’s truth, both could vary greatly from individual to individual. This understanding became clearer for me as I reflected on my past experiences in light of this premise.

Lesson Learned:

My first foray into evaluation involved administering standardized tests and psycho-social assessments that were designed to measure program impacts. As time progressed, I began to see how these instruments captured one part of the story while overlooking others. I realized how a sole reliance on these tools were incompatible with my values, which included capturing a holistic perspective that is sensitive to a diversity of voices.

Reflecting on my experience while familiarizing myself with the constructivist paradigm has helped me see how my value system not only affects my orientation toward particular methods and engagement with stakeholders, but also how deeply connected my values are to my own lived experience. My values were reflective of a truth that I hold in direct relationship to how I see the world.

As evaluators, we often work in contested spaces and with those representing a range of values. We evaluate programs, organizations, and policies that are embedded in larger power structures, also representing a range of values. In the midst of all these values are our own.

Rad Resources:

Reflecting on your own experiences and values not only makes you a more thoughtful, reflexive practitioner or scholar. These resources are useful tools for reflection and discussion:

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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