Evaluation is an Everyday Activity

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Program Evaluation Discussions
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Alternative facts?

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 2:06pm
Alternative facts.

Never. Never. has evaluation been questioned with the label of “alternative facts.”

Over the years, I have been very aware that evaluation is a political activity.

I have talked about evaluation being political (here, and here, and here, and here ).

But is it? Is it just another way of making the answer be what we want it to be? A form of alternative fact?

I’ve been an evaluator for a long time. I want to make a difference to the people who experience my programs (or the programs for which I’m consulting as an external evaluator). The thought that I might be presenting “alternative facts” is troublesome.

Did I really determine that outcome? Or is the outcome bogus? Liars use statistics, you know. (This is a paraphrase of a quote that Mark Twain attributed to Benjamin Disraeli.)

Big news brings out the fakers. But are evaluation results “big news”? Or…do people not want to hear what is actually happening, what the outcome really is?

Reminds me of 1984 ( George Orwell): War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength (the English Socialist Party–aka. INGSOC). Kevin Siers added, in his cartoon of Sean Spicer,  “2017 is 1984”.  Two contradictory ideas existing at the same time as correct.

Statistics.

Statistics is a tool that evaluators use on a regular basis. It allows evaluators to tease apart various aspects of a program. The “who” , the “what”, the “when”, maybe even the “why”. Statistics can certainly help determine if I made a difference  But how I see statistics may not be how you see them, interpret them, use them. Two people can look at a set of statistics and say they do not agree. Is that an example of alternative facts?

Bias.

Everyone comes to any program with preconceived bias. You, the evaluator, want to see a difference. Preferably a statistically significant difference, not just a practical significance (although that would be nice as well).

Even if you are dealing with qualitative data, and not with quantitative data yielding statistics, you come to the program with bias. Objectivity is not an option. You wouldn’t be doing the program if you didn’t think that the program will make a difference. Yet, the individuals who have funded the program (or in some other way are the folks who get the final report) can (and do) not accept the report as it is written. That is not what they want to see/hear/read. Does that make the report alternative facts? Or is bias speaking without acknowledging that bias?

Perhaps Kierkegaard is right.

There are only two ways you can be fooled.

 

my .

molly.

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