The Role for an Evaluator: A Fundamental Issue for Evaluation
of Education and Social Programs Heng Luo
Department of Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation, Syracuse University 330 Huntington Hall, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, 13244, USA
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Abstract This paper discusses one of the fundamental issues in education and social program evaluation: the proper role for an evaluator. Based on respective and comparative analysis of five theorists’ positions on this fundamental issue, this paper reveals how different perspectives on other fundamental issues in evaluation such as value, methods, use and purposes can result in different roles for evaluators, and how such difference can affect evaluators’ responsibilities in different stages of an evaluation. Then the paper proposes its own resolution of the issue of evaluator’s role and discusses its implication and limitations. Keywords: Role for an evaluator, Program evaluation, Fundamental issue 1. Introduction Fundamental issues in evaluation include the purpose of evaluation, the nature of evaluation, the best methods, strategies and tools of conducting evaluation, the practical concerns such as politics, clients and resources and their influence on evaluation, as well as the roles, ethics and responsibilities of evaluators. Fundamental issues are defined as “those underlying concerns, problems, or choices that continually resurface in different guises throughout our evaluation work.” (Smith, 2008, p.2) Although those fundamental issues will resurface periodically in the field of evaluation in new forms and cannot really be solved once and for all; the awareness of the recurring nature of such fundamental issues can help one view the current problems in evaluation from a better historical perspective. By identifying and examining such fundamental issues, evaluators can have a deeper understanding of their importance, constraints and alternative solutions, thus propose a more effective, yet still impermanent resolution for the existing problems. 1.1 Evaluator’s Role as a Fundamental Issue The fundamental issue discussed in this paper is the role for an evaluator. Over the years, many evaluation theorists have proposed different roles for evaluators. For example, Scriven sees evaluator as a “judge” who justifies the value of an evaluand and offers his summative judgment in the final report; while Stake believes an evaluator should be a “program facilitator” who works with different stakeholders and assists them to “discover ideas, answers, and solutions within their own mind”. Campbell prefers a “methodologist” role for an evaluator, advocating rigorous experiment design that yields strong causal inferences; but Wholey believes an evaluator should be an “educator”, whose role is to infuse useful information to the potential users of the evaluation. The emphasis resides not only in the immediate outcome of a program, but also in the inputs, implementation and long-term outcome of the program. However, terms such as “judge”, “methodologist” and “educator” are just metaphors to facilitate understanding and cannot always accurately describe the role an evaluator plays during an evaluation. In fact, evaluators often play different roles in different phases of an evaluation. For example, an evaluator can be a judge during the phase of selecting criteria of merit, a methodologist when collecting data, a program facilitator during the program implementation, and an educator during the results dissemination. The roles an evaluator takes during an evaluation reflect his or her beliefs in other fundamental issues such as theories, values, methods, practice and use, etc. Other issues such as education background, previous working experiences, the nature and setting of social programs might also contribute to shaping the proper roles for an evaluator. 1.2 Importance of Evaluator’s Role as a Fundamental Issue Just like any other fundamental issue in evaluation, there is no final resolution to defining the proper role for an evaluator. However, studying the different roles an evaluator can play, as proposed by different theorists, is still quite important for evaluators, clients and evaluation as a profession. Turning first to evaluators, studying the different roles for an evaluator is actually studying the different approaches of conducting evaluation. An evaluator’s role is not self-claimed; rather it is defined by the things an
International Education Studies Vol. 3, No. 2; May 2010
evaluator does during the evaluation. For instance, we wouldn’t use the metaphor “judge” to describe the evaluator’s role in Scriven’s theory if evaluators’ job doesn’t include determining the criteria of merits, setting comparative standards and giving a final summative judgment. Or we wouldn’t compare the role of evaluator in Weiss’s theory to an educator if providing “enlightenment” (Note 1) is not a primary task for her evaluators. The familiarity with different roles an evaluator can play allows one to take a more flexible approach to conduct evaluation according to specific context, the nature of social program, available resources, and different client expectations. As for the clients of an evaluation, the awareness of the different roles of an evaluator can play will help them select the right candidate according to their specific needs; and reach an agreement with the selected evaluator about his/her job responsibilities as well as the obligations clients shall make in order to facilitate the evaluation process. For example, for a program that does not welcome intrusion, an evaluator who prefers doing an experiment might not be the best candidate. For an evaluator who prefers the role as a “program facilitator”, program administrators should anticipate frequent meetings with the evaluator and make incremental changes according to his/her feedback. The basic knowledge about evaluator’s roles is especially important in today’s world of globalization, where evaluation in a different nation or culture becomes more common. Clarifying the role an evaluator should play beforehand is a good way to avoid surprise, misunderstanding, and conflict later on. Finally, evaluation as a profession will benefit from a deeper understanding of the roles of evaluators. How is an evaluator different from a social scientist? Can a methodologist be hired to do the job of an evaluator? What is the difference between evaluation and research? What are the competencies that are unique for an evaluator? Those questions are raised due to the lack of distinction between evaluation and other social science professions. Explicating the proper roles for a professional evaluator will be a good approach to address such distinction and solidify the status of evaluation as a profession. 2. Theorists’ Positions on the Fundamental Issue of Evaluator’s Role Many theorists in the field of evaluation have different opinions regarding the proper roles for an evaluator. Their opinions on this issue reflect their overall philosophy about doing evaluation as well as their stances on other fundamental issues in evaluation. This section will first discuss the resolutions proposed by different theorists regarding the role of evaluator, analyzing the strength and weakness of each resolution. Then a comparative analysis will be conducted to study the positions across those theorists. 2.1 Scriven Scriven believes that an evaluator’s role is to investigate and justify the value of an evaluand. Such investigation and justification shall be supported with joining empirical facts and probative reasoning. “Bad is bad and good is good and it is the job of evaluators to decide which is which” (Scriven, 1986, p.19). He rejects the notion that an evaluator’s role is simply to provide information to decision-makers and claims that “the arguments for keeping science value free are in general extremely bad” (Scriven, 1969, p.36). According to Scriven, an evaluator’s responsibilities during an evaluation include:
- Determining criteria of merit from needs assessment. Criteria of merit of an evaluand should be its capacity to meet needs. Although an evaluator can use the results of needs assessment conducted by a program developer, sometimes he/she should do an independent needs-analysis. To avoid bias, Scriven advises evaluators to conduct “goal-free” evaluation and formulate questions by ignoring the program goals and looking for all possible effects an evaluand could have.
• Setting comparative evaluation standards. A set of standards should be created by evaluators to assess the program performance. Such standards are used for comparison, either comparison with a set level of performance, or with alternative programs. The latter comparison is preferred by Scriven since he believes that an evaluator will usually make decisions about choosing among alternatives