Theories of Eval TIG Week: Evaluation Theories: Aids to the Evaluation Imagination by Lyssa Wilson Becho

Hello! My name is Lyssa Wilson Becho and I currently serve as the Chair of the Theories of Evaluation TIG. I am also an evaluator at Western Michigan University’s Evaluation Center and a doctoral student in the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Evaluation at Western Michigan University.

I am excited to kick off this AEA365 week sponsored by the Theories of Evaluation TIG. Our TIG began back in 1992 with the express purpose to encourage and support the development, critique, and application of theoretical aspects of evaluation practice and research.  Throughout this week, we hope that you learn something about evaluation theory you might not have known before, are challenged to think of evaluation theory in a different light or are inspired to learn more about how evaluation theory applies to your own practice.

Why should you care about evaluation theory?

One of my favorite descriptions of evaluation theory is by Thomas Schwandt (2014). He describes evaluation theory as “repertoires of concepts, insights, explanations, and tools that professional practitioners can use as heuristics, tools ‘to think with.’ They are aids to the evaluation imagination, as practitioners come to understand the problems before them and how those problems might be solved.” (p. 234).

Evaluation theories helps us think about the practical problems we face in evaluation. What design would produce the most credible results to stakeholders? What and whose values should be included when writing evaluation questions? How much and at what points should stakeholders be involved in the evaluation process? These are the questions that evaluation theory helps us to intentionally consider and respond.  They help us navigate the hard decisions we are asked to make in the messy world of practice. Evaluation theories help us think differently about the possibilities of approaches, methods, and techniques we could use in our practice.

Rad Resources:

  • If you’re new to the idea of evaluation theory and want to learn more, there are a few central texts that can get you started. Alkin’s Evaluation Roots (2013) traces the history and epistemological origins of evaluation theorists, weaving them together into the evaluation theory tree. Texts by Stufflebeam and Coryn or Mertens and Wilson also help lay out the available theories and compare their utility in practice.
  • You can also learn about different evaluation approaches through checklists, or Better Evaluation’s repository of resources.
  • For more stories about evaluation theory used in practice, check out Jody Fitzpatrick’s Exemplar Evaluations interview with Katrina Bledsoe. These interviews turned into a collection of stories about evaluation in action, a book worth checking out if you’re interested in hearing more stories of evaluation theory in practice.
  • Our TIG hopes to add to the existing resources that make evaluation theory accessible and applicable to practitioners. We want to start by creating a collective bibliography on evaluation theory in the upcoming months. So, keep an eye on our website!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Theories of Evaluation  TIG week. All posts this week are contributed by members of the TOE Topical Interest Group. 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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