The Authority of Evaluation

Being visited by an evaluator, accountant, assessor, accreditation reviewer, or any of the many other figures playing a professional evaluation role is usually experienced as being placed in a subordinate position to a person whose pro­fessional role is to review and evaluate you, your program, or your organiza­tion “objectively.” Nearly all of us have experienced such evaluations, so it should be easy to conjure up the image of the objective, impartial outsider who asks hard questions in what is frequently experienced as a hostile way. Distance is supposed to be crucial in conventional evaluation; attempts to co-opt an eval­uator are to be guarded against (and, of course, often engaged in). Although some evaluators are more skilled than others in managing their relationships with their subjects, conventional evaluation is assumed to center on a potential conflict of interest between the evaluator and the subjects.

The reader will probably have noticed how closely this approach to evalu­ation parailels the concepts of conventional social science and its links to bureaucratic impartiality. The notions of objectivity, distance, and the need to avoid bias and co-optation match closely the standard rules for conventional social research and their reliance on the complex mechanisms of sampling, sta­tistical testing, and the like to achieve “distance/’ In addition, most conven­tional evaluations take place at the end of a project or at major intervals after some significant project activity has occurred. The purpose of the evaluation is generally to “grade” the performance of the project and its leaders, though, of course, some interim evaluations aim to produce useful information for sub­sequent phases of the project. One clear assumption is that the subjects should not be trusted to provide either an honest or a good-quality evaluation of themselves and that making use of the evaluation results for immediate and ongoing changes in the project is not a principal goal. Being evaluated this way gives you an experience of what it feels like to be treated as a research subject by a conventional social researcher.

Source: Greenwood Davydd J., Levin Morten (2006), Introduction to Action Research: Social Research for Social Change, SAGE Publications, Inc; 2nd edition.

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