three approaches to evaluation

Three broad approaches to evaluation are commonly found within informal education practice. Educators will often have to work with all three.

Directed evaluation. In this approach external agents, often funders, set criteria. The focus is largely upon measurable outcomes and outputs. It is chiefly used as a tool of management and control. Comparisons are made between agencies and workers. The methods used are designed to measure ‘efficiency’, ‘effectiveness’ and ‘value for money’. The result is often the creation of conformity as agencies and workers strive to deliver the required outputs and outcomes. It also fuels competition, the fabrication of results, and the rejection of ‘unprofitable customers’ in order to sustain funding. Examples of this approach are commonplace in education and health services. Some of the most visible signs of its use are league tables, funding report forms and inspection reports.

Negotiated evaluation. Here the judgements regarding practice are made according to criteria agreed between the different parties involved. Management committees, funders, workers and participants may all make some contribution to deciding what is to be evaluated and how. There is debate and discussion, although not all may be involved in everything. The criteria and the method are not imposed by outside bodies and can vary from situation to situation. However, they are set out in advance. The methods can be close to those used in directed evaluation. Apart from collecting data (about, for example, the number of people using a facility) this approach commonly involves evaluation forms and questionnaires.

Dialogical evaluation. This approach places the responsibility for evaluation on educators and participants. Its purpose is to enrich practice and it is part and parcel of practice. We seek conversations that focus on issues concerning the value of people’s experiences and learning. This entails engaging with people to describe experiences, explore meanings, confront issues, and reconstruct practice. As part of the daily round of working, we encourage people to look at what they have learnt and their experiences of learning. We listen to what they are saying (and not saying) and also reflect upon our own experiences. We ask questions or make suggestions so that people may develop their abilities to evaluate their own experiences. At the same time we may invite them to join with us in making judgements about the work. For much of the time this is not planned and does not make use of formal tools. It twists and develops through conversation. This means it can take some unravelling – and hence the place for recording and exploring things with others. More formal activities are also often necessary to stimulate reflection. These can range from the production of annual reports, through things like focus groups, to residentials and business meetings. The keynotes are dialogue and the exercise of democratic power. This approach involves the making of decisions by those directly involved (and who also have to live with the consequences of their actions).

infedcov.jpg (18462 bytes)Taken from Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith (2005) Informal Education. Conversation, democracy and learning, Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.

© Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith
First published November 1999. Last update: July 08, 2014