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The core of evaluation: Evaluative Thinking by Tom Grayson


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.

Lesson Learned:

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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3 thoughts on “The core of evaluation: Evaluative Thinking by Tom Grayson”

  1. Pingback: #EvalTuesdayTip: 7 resources on Evaluative Thinking - Khulisa

  2. Pingback: #EvalTuesdayTip: 7 resources on Evaluative Thinking - Khulisa

  3. Sherry Pielsticker

    Hello, My name is Sherry Pielsticker and I have been a teacher for 20 years, living around the world with my family. I am currently working in an international school in Cairo, Egypt. I am also a masters student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and completing a course in Program Inquiry and Evaluation. I am fascinated by the field of evaluation – especially as educational practices seem to be changed at a whim, and are often politicised without paying attention to evaluative processes.
    This post serves as a reminder of the importance of evaluative thinking. As ‘real news’ has been attacked as fake, and ‘fake news’ finding its way into people’s online feeds, evaluative thinking is more important for all. As members of democratic societies, citizens have a responsibility to judge programs based on their objective success or failure. As the world becomes more politicised, objective understanding of results is crucial, and the role of program evaluators even more important. A radio show I listened to the other day spoke of the most dangerous addiction of all – the addiction of Americans to ‘handouts’ such as Medicaid and Medicare (this while driving through Ohio – a state facing drug addiction issues, and a high need for additional services to help with this growing problem.) . Of course, no data was offered in the arguments condemning social services for raising ‘ handout addicts’, and listeners confronted with language that demonised services, might too agree that additional help made for lazy people taking up valuable government dollars.
    In the evaluators that you quote in this post, Jane Buckley et al. state that evaluative thinking is ‘‘essentially critical thinking applied to contexts of evaluation’. They were looking at how evaluative thinking is built upon the critical thinking movement. I wonder, if it is also necessary to equip those outside of evaluative practise to understand components of evaluative thinking for their own assessment purposes.
    So while those in the profession of evaluation use their understanding of evaluative thinking while involved in professional projects, the thinking involved by those in the profession of evaluation, as outlined by Michael Patton which “combines critical thinking, creative thinking, inferential thinking, and practical thinking.” would be important for everyone.
    I wonder if aspects of evaluative thinking need to be brought into classrooms, both in public and higher education. While some aspects of thinking are already being taught in good schools, increasing the requirements for these higher level thinking skills should help citizens accept evaluation reports and seek out strong data based arguments related to social and educational programs.

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