We are excited and honored to have Dr. Thomas Schwandt as the EViE 2019 keynote
speaker. The theme for this year’s conference, the Role of Evaluation in Society, reflects one of many areas where Dr. Schwandt has made significant contributions to the field, and we look forward to his remarks, your presentations, and a shared dialogue around this important topic.
Download a copy of the call here: EViE 2019_Theme
EViE 2019: The Role of Evaluation in Society
The practice of evaluation has grown to occupy an influential space in the current social
and political landscape (Dahler-Larsen, 2012). This elevated status has stimulated discussion about the role of evaluation in society, as debates previously confined to the field’s internal dialogue are increasingly reflected in public discourse. Social and political shifts toward “data-driven decision-making” and “evidence-based practice” have obvious implications for the field, but clarity and certainty regarding the role of evaluators and evaluation are not an inevitable product of an expanding “evaluation society” (Dahler-Larsen, 2012). The field’s place in society is a matter of whether and how evaluation serves the public good, how ethics influence and shape evaluation practice, where the responsibilities of evaluators begin and end, and to what extent the field should identify as a unique profession.
In developing a theme for EViE 2019, we considered the role of evaluation in society to
be both an urgent topic for conversation in our current sociopolitical climate and a lasting and universally relevant issue in the field. In this call for proposals, we highlight four key areas which are central to this discussion and offer guiding questions to stimulate thought. We also encourage those submitting proposals to expand and personalize the theme to fit their own conceptualizations of the role of evaluation in society.
- Public good: William (2016) suggests that the public good includes “better
informed citizens leading to improved democracy and a more inclusive society
and knowledge conceived of as an end in itself” (p. 622). These aspirational
characteristics of society align with the goals of many evaluators who seek to
contribute to the alleviation of inequalities and promote social justice, social
mobility, and equal access to resources for historically underrepresented groups
(Johnson et al., 2009; Mathison, 2018). How does evaluation contribute to the
public good? How does evaluation maintain or challenge the status quo?
- Ethics: Historically, ethics has been characterized as good or bad behavior
associated with evaluator (mis)conduct and protection of the evaluation
participant (Morris, 2015) based on standards or principles. Many scholars have
challenged this limited view of ethics and instead encouraged greater examination
through relational ethics (Rossman & Rallis, 2003), evaluator and stakeholder
values in shaping evaluation practice (Barnett & Munslow, 2014), and the
influence of evaluation principles on practice in achieving societal goals
(Worthen, 2001). Together, these ideas suggest ethics are neither value-neutral,
nor absent from the epistemological dispositions of evaluators, the conduct of
evaluation, or a profession’s core values and aspirations (Schwandt, 2017). What
values frame the ethical stances or decision-making processes of novice
evaluators in their evaluation design, methodologies, and epistemologies? How
do emerging evaluators bring together their own ethical positions with those
espoused by the field to inform their practice?
- Responsibility: Given the interdisciplinary nature of evaluation, evaluators may
find themselves taking on additional roles (e.g., educators, advocates, or
democratic professionals) (Schwandt, 2017). Depending on the program goals,
evaluation capacity, and context, these roles may be dynamic and evolve,
especially as conditions and needs change. Under what conditions do novice
evaluators adopt certain roles? What criteria or standards can guide novice
evaluators to ensure that they are taking on an appropriate role in a given
- Professionalization: Evaluation’s identity as a profession concerns the degree to
which consensus can be built regarding the skills and knowledge at the core of
evaluation practice, what it means to conduct “quality” evaluation, and who is
granted access to the practice (Jacob & Boisvert, 2010; Schwandt, 2015).
Evidence of a shift toward professionalization can be found in the competencies
and standards put forth by organizations such as the American Evaluation
Association, the European Evaluation Society, and the Canadian Evaluation
Society. As student evaluators, to what extent does — or should — your education
and training reflect a core set of skills or competencies? To what extent is the
“heterogeneity, diversity, and amorphousness” of evaluation practice compatible
with a shift toward professionalization (Rossi, Lipsey, & Freeman, 2004, p. 394)?
Jacob, S., & Boisvert, Y. (2010). To be or not to be a profession: pros, cons and challenges for evaluation. Evaluation, 16(4), 349–369.
Johnson, K., Greenseid, L. O., Toal, S. A., King, J. A., Lawrenz, F., & Volkov, B. (2009).
Research on evaluation use: A review of the empirical literature from 1986 to 2005.
American Journal of Evaluation, 30(3), 377-410.
Mathison, S. (2018). Does evaluation contribute to the public good? Evaluation, 24, 1.
Morris, M. (2015). Research on evaluation ethics: Reflections and an agenda. New Directions for Evaluation, 31-42.
Newman, D. L. (1995). The future of ethics in evaluation: Developing the dialogue. New
Direction for Program Evaluation, 99-110.
Rossi P.H., Lipsey M.W., and Freeman, H.E. (2004) Evaluation: A Systematic Approach, 7th
edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Rossman, G. B., & Rallis, S. F. (2010). Everyday ethics: Reflections on practice. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 23(4), 379-391.
Schwandt, T. A. (2015). Evaluation foundations revisited: Cultivating a life of the mind for
practice. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
Schwandt, T. A. (2017). Professionalization, Ethics, and Fidelity to an Evaluation Ethos.
American Journal of Evaluation, 38(4), 546–553.
Williams, J. (2016). A critical exploration of changing definitions of public good in relation to higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 41, 4, 619.
Worthen, B. R. (2001). Whither evaluation? That all depends. American Journal of Evaluation, 22, 409-418.