Theory & Practice Week: Evaluation theory and practice: Two halves of the same body by Adeyemo Adetogun

Hello! My name is Adeyemo Adetogun, I’m a doctoral student in the Education Research Methodology department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). My area of concentration is in program evaluation with a focus on Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.

The very notion that we can evaluate anything, including evaluation itself, is a testament to the ubiquitous influence evaluation has on us as humans, and our activities. Accordingly, I found Shadish, Cook, and Levinton (1991) excerpts in their book, Foundations of Program Evaluation: Theories of Practice, to be useful in highlighting the interdependence of theory and practice in the field of evaluation. The body of knowledge concerned with organizing, categorizing, describing, predicting, explaining, understanding, and controlling a topic is equally as important as and deeply informs the body of knowledge that explicates the relationships between goals, processes, activities, conflict, or other issues experienced within the field of evaluation. Stated simply, our theory informs our practice.

A man recognized as the founder of social psychology, Kurt Lewin, once said, “. . . there is nothing so practical as good theory.” Another scholar, Michael Fullan, noted for his expertise on educational reform added, “. . . there is nothing so theoretical as good practice.” In all these, I see evaluation theory and practice as two halves of the same body; both needing each other to further develop the identity of the field.

Lessons Learned:

As I continue to learn and engage in research that will increase my understanding of evaluation theory and practice, a few lessons have emerged from my scholarship thus far. I lean on the suggestions of Shadish, Cook, and Levinton (1991) to articulate them more succinctly:

  1. Every evaluator should be well grounded in evaluation theory; otherwise they will be left to trial and error, or to professional lore in learning about appropriate methods. Consider that evaluation theories are like military strategy and tactics – methods are like military weapons and logistics. A good military commander with fine training and shrewdness needs to know strategy and tactics to deploy weapons properly, and should be able to organize logistics in different situations. A similar worldview must apply to a good evaluator – they need theories for the same reasons in choosing and deploying methods.
  2. Evaluation theory provide meaning for practice, and all evaluation practitioners are nascent evaluation theorists. They think about what they are doing, make considered judgments about which methods to use in each situation, weigh advantages and disadvantages of choices they face, and learn from successes and failures in their past evaluations.

Rad Resources: Check out this link for further reading:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Theory and Practice week. The aea365 contributions all this week come from Dr. Ayesha Boyce and her University of North Carolina Greensboro graduate students’ reflections on evaluation theory and practice. 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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