Program Development + Evaluation = Intervention?

Evaluation as Intervention?

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A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria (or both) living among filaments of a fungus in a mutually beneficial relationship (symbiotic relationship). The combined life form has properties that are very different from the properties of its component organisms.

I really don’t know why this picture speaks to me. Maybe it speaks to me because it implies change. I don’t know about you, but I see program development and program evaluation as “mutually beneficial” and hopefully both work together to produce change for the good.

Recently, an evaluator and blogger, Charles Gasper, stole my thunder with his blog, The Evaluation Evangelist: Evaluation as an Intervention. Why? Because, for the last year, I have been thinking along the exact same lines but had not yet put the ideas on paper. While Charles outlines some “rules” for his theory I have not been so prescriptive. Instead, I have been observing the phenomena within my own practice. At first, it was simply that, an observation that evaluation leads to programmatic change. For example, when I hear myself coming out of the mouths of my clients– like when clients ask coalition members if the intervention being suggested is on their logic model.  Or, in some instances when clients ask each other how a particular evaluation question is going to be measured, I am grateful for learning and growth. Charles and I are in agreement, evaluation is intended for the improvement of programs and systems.

As a community psychologist, I try to be respectful of clients, specifically their wants, wishes and  perspectives. Think participatory and empowerment evaluation – both directly related to the principles of community psychology. But lately, I have been wondering if evaluators can’t be more direct in their intervention and still maintain the respect for their clients’ power and choice.

So when a client or program is stuck as happens from time to time, I try and think what can I do to help them get unstuck? I sometimes try and get them to focus on a few aspects of their logic model. We often use data info graphs or data briefs as a way to visualize their data in a new way. Sometimes we try and get them to focus on the action they need to take by measuring activities and process.

To me the line between program development and program evaluation is thin and opaque. Maybe it’s even imaginary. I don’t think evaluation is possible without impacting a program – hopefully for the better. Charles and I definitely agree that in evaluation things get messy: “The trick is to embrace the dirt – such things as local context, environment, and change” and embrace the connection between program development and evaluation and the idea of evaluation as intervention.