Hello Evaluators! I’m Tom Grayson, former member of the AEA Board, recently retired as Director of Evaluation in Student Affairs at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Currently, I am an evaluation consultant and facilitator.
I just finished reading the recent issue of New Directions for Evaluation, Number 158 Summer 2018, titled “Evaluative Thinking.” This issue offers a broad-based understanding of evaluative thinking. It’s edited by Anne T. Vo and Thomas Archibald. And it is just what the doctor ordered… a prescription for thoughtful evaluations. This issue reminded me of the novella, The Petit Prince, written by Saint-Exupery (1942). In this fable for adults, the Fox tells the Prince his simple secret: “One sees clearly only with the heart [reason]. Anything essential [in evaluation practice] is invisible to the eyes”.
Evaluators, regardless of the cross-disciplinary diversity in fields of work, must recognize that evaluative thinking is at the core of evaluation practice. Listed here are a few of our esteemed evaluation colleagues who have expressed their understanding of what evaluative thinking is about. Their thoughts regarding the importance of evaluative thinking are clearly stated and are echoed in the Summer 2018 NDE publication.
- Anne T. Vo and Thomas Archibald say, “Evaluative thinking is how we think when we are evaluating.”
- Ernie House in his book, Evaluating Values, Biases, and Practical Wisdom, says, “Professional evaluation is an institutional embodiment of evaluative thinking”
- Jane Davidson says, “Quantitative evidence is the “bones,” qualitative evidence is the “flesh,” and evaluative reasoning is the “vital organ” that bring them both to life.”
- Thomas Schwandt, Zenda Ofir, Stefano D’Errico, Kassem El-?Saddik, Dorothy Lucks say, “Evaluative thinking is a way of viewing the world, an ongoing process of critical reflection on, and appraisal of, assumptions and claims, coupled with a commitment to continuous learning and a willingness and ability to modify views in light of reasoned arguments and evidence.”
- Jane Buckley, Thomas Archibald, Monica Hargraves, and William M. Trochim say, “Evaluative thinking is critical thinking applied in the context of evaluation, motivated by an attitude of inquisitiveness and a belief in the value of evidence, that involves identifying assumptions, posing thoughtful questions, pursuing deeper understanding through reflection and perspective making, and informing decisions in preparation for action.”
- Michael Patton says, “Learning how to think evaluatively is learning how to learn and think critically… rigorous evaluative thinking combines critical thinking, creative thinking, inferential thinking, and practical thinking.”
Evaluative thinking is critical in our practice of evaluation, i.e., our systematic collection and analysis of facts in order to make informed judgments about the merit (quality), value (worth) and significance of whatever is being evaluated.
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