Reflections on Constructivism Week: Viewing problems through paradigmatic lenses 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 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, that of problems and paradigms.

Guba and Lincoln write about the tendency of problems to fall primarily within one of three categories: action, conceptual and values. They note that in action problems, inquirers are unsure what to do; in conceptual problems, inquirers are not sure what to believe; and in value problems, inquirers are not clear which set of values are applicable to a given social issue. They note that different paradigms are likely to highlight radically different problems; and indeed, what is a problem in one paradigm may not be considered a problem in another. Yet the authors argue that because a problem may not be clearly articulated in another paradigm does not render it moot. Rather, it suggests that elements of the problem are being viewed from another perspective, or that thinking may be occurring “out of the box”, or that issues arose in its application which were unforeseen in the development of the original theory.

Lessons Learned:

I find Lincoln and Guba’s approach to thinking about paradigms to be interesting. Rather than highlighting the tension between the positivist, post-positivist, constructivist and transformative paradigms, a reality that has been a contentious part of our past in the evaluation field, Guba and Lincoln adopt a refreshingly positive approach to the philosophical differences the paradigms present. Instead of focusing on these differences themselves, they focus on problems. Reflecting on the nature of problems – whether action, conceptual or values-oriented — from the different paradigmatic areas of thinking can enable richer exchange. Further, their conjecture reminds us that a method should not be a pre-determined approach but rather a deliberate choice in response to exploring the nature of a problem.

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 onYvonna 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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