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Evaluation is an Everyday Activity
Program Evaluation Discussions
Updated: 2 hours 3 min ago
Probable? Maybe. Making a difference is always possible.
Oxford English Dictionary defines possible as capable of being (may/can exist, be done, or happen). It defines probable as worthy of acceptance, believable.
Somebody asked me what was the difference between science fiction and fantasy. Certainly the simple approach is that science fiction deals with the possible (if you can think it, it can happen). Fantasy deals with monsters, fairies, goblins, and other mythical creatures, i.e., majic and majical creatures.
(Disclaimer: I personally believe in majic; much of fantasy deals with magic.) I love the Arthurian legend (it could be fantasy; it has endured for so long it is believable). It is full of majic. I especially like the Marion Zimmer Bradley book, The Mists of Avalon . (I find the feminist perspective refreshing.)
Is fantasy always impossible as Bradbury suggests, or is it just improbable? (Do the rules of physics apply?) This takes me back to Bradbury’s quote and evaluation after the minor digression. Bradbury also says that “Science fiction, again, is the history of ideas, and they’re always ideas that work themselves out and become real and happen in the world.” Not unlike evaluation. Evaluation works itself out and becomes real and happens. Usually.Evaluation and the possible.
Often, I am invited to be the evaluator of record after the program has started. I sigh. Then I have a lot of work to do. I must teach folks that evaluation is not an “add on” activity. I must also teach the folks how to identify the difference the program made. Then there is the issue of outputs (activities, participants) vs. outcomes (learning, behavior, conditions). Many principal investigators want to count differences pre-post.
Does the “how many” provide a picture of what difference the program made? If you start with no or few participants and you end with many participants, have you made a difference? Yes, it is possible to count. Counts often meet reporting requirements. They are possible. So is documenting the change in knowledge, behavior, and conditions. It takes more work and more money. It is possible. Will you get to world peace? Probably not. Even if you can think it. World peace may be probable; it may not be possible (at least in my lifetime).
AEA365 ran a blog on vulnerability recently (August 5, 2016). It cited the TED talk by Brené Brown on the same topic. Although I really enjoyed the talk (I haven’t met a TED talk I didn’t like), it was more than her discussion of vulnerability that I enjoyed (although I certainly enjoyed learning that vulnerability is the birth place of joy and connection is why we are here .
She talked about story and its relationship to qualitative data. She says that she is a qualitative researcher and she collects stories. She says that “stories are just data with a soul”. That made a lot of sense to me.
See, I’ve been struggling to figure out how to turn the story into a meaningful outcome without reducing it to a number. (I do not have an answer, yet. If any of you have any ideas, let me know.) She says (quoting a former research professor) that if you cannot measure it, it does not exist. If it doesn’t exist then is what ever you are studying a figment of your imagination? So is there a way to capture a story and aggregate that story with other similar stories to get an outcome WITHOUT REDUCING IT TO A NUMBER? So given that stories are often messy, and given that stories are often complicated, and given that stories are rich in what they tell the researcher, it occurred to me that stories are more than themes and and content analysis. Stories are “data with a soul”.Qualitative Data
Yet any book on qualitative data analysis (for example or or ) you will see that there is confusion in the analysis process. Is it the analysis of qualitative data OR is it the qualitative analysis of data. Where do you put the modifier “qualitative”? To understand the distinction, a 2×2 visual might be helpful. (Adapted from Bernard, H. R. & Ryan, G. W. (1996). Qualitative data, quantitative analysis. Cultural Anthropology Methods Journal, 8(1), 9 – 11. Copyright © 1996 Sage Publications.)
We are doing data analysis in all four quadrants. We are analyzing and capturing the deeper meaning of the data in cell A. Yes, we are analyzing data in other cells (B, C, and D) just not the capturing the deeper meaning of those data. Cell D is the quantitative analysis of quantitative data; Cell B is the qualitative analysis of quantitative data; and Cell C is the quantitative analysis of qualitative data. So the question becomes “Do you want deeper meaning from your data?” or “Do you want a number from your data?” (I’m still working on relating this to story!)
It all depends on what you want when you analyze your data. If you want to reduce it to a number, focus on cells B, C, and D. If you want deeper meaning, focus on cell A. Depending on what you want (and how you interpret the data) will be the place where the personal and situational bias occur. No, you cannot be the “objective and dispassionate” scientist. Doesn’t happen in today’s world (probably ever–only I can only speak of today’s world). Everyone has biases and they rear their heads (perhaps ugly heads) when least expected.
You have to try. Regardless.
This quote is often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962); there are some sites that attribute this quote to Donald Anderson Laird (1897-1969), a psychologist and author (no photo found). Probably, more accurate. I’m not sure that the origin of the saying is really important. It may be enough to keep in mind the saying itself. (I know–how does this relate to evaluation? Trust me, it does.)
Before I was an evaluator, I was a child therapist (I also treated young women). I learned many skills as a therapist that have served me well as an evaluator. Skills like listening, standing up for your self, looking at alternatives. Which leads me to this saying. I had to “handle” others all the time at the same time I had to “handle” my self. I could not “blow up” when reprimanded. I could not become discouraged when someone (the client, the funder) criticized me. I had to learn to laugh when the joke was on me. I had to keep my spirits up when things went wrong. I had to keep cool in emergencies. I had to learn to tune out gossip and negative comments from others. This was a hard time for me. I tend to be passionate when I have an opinion; I have/had opinions (often).
As an evaluator, I am still passionate. Once my evaluation “on” button is pushed, it is hard to turn it off. Yet I still have to handle people. This morning, for example, I met with a fellow faculty member. I had to listen. I had to look for (and at) alternatives. I “handled” with my head; remember, I am passionate about evaluation. I provided her with alternatives and followed through with those alternatives. I handled with my heart.
When others are involved (and in evaluation there are always others), they must be handled with care, with the heart. It goes back to the standards (propriety) and the guiding principles (integrity/honesty, direct respect for people, and responsibilities for general and public welfare). In the current times, it is especially important to have direct respect for people. All people. (Regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sex, national origin, veteran status, and disability.) To be honest and have integrity. One way to make sure you have integrity is to handle with your heart.