K-12 Education

Who Will Be Using This Evaluation, Anyway?

May 31, 2013


Thanks to Canadian consultants and researchers Ricardo Ramírez and Dal Brodhead, those of us interested in “utilization-focused” approaches to evaluation have a new and free resource to dig into: Utilization Focused Evaluation: A primer for evaluators.  Of all its many insights and actionable recommendations, the book’s most significant contribution may yet be the example it sets for linking theory and action, the abstract with the practical, the “talk” and the “walk” (as Michael Quinn Patton puts it in his pithy foreword).

Let’s Talk…Objectively

A spectre is haunting journalism—the spectre of subjectivity.  Or so writes Jonathan Stray in a blog post for the Nieman Journalism Lab.  Citing recent research into current journalistic practices, Stray argues that despite the field’s longstanding claim to objectivity a significant portion of journalistic work relies heavily on narrative and the subjective interpretation of events.  This reinforces one of our working assumptions when evaluating media content: by decoding the structure of a story an article, we can better understand its primary themes, its target audiences, and ultimately its intended aims.


There’s no doubt that failure can be turned into a good thing, but only if it yields lessons for continuous learning and future action.  The same should be said of evaluations.  Sure, evaluations have use in and of themselves (say, to fulfill a requirement under a grant agreement).  But we believe their greatest value lies in helping folks develop evaluative thinking capacity that will come in handy later on.  We were glad to come across Shaina Watson’s piece on the role of student feedback in massive open online courses, or MOOCs.  Her opening story about a certain Coursera class can be described as an instructive MOOCfail, which makes it a sort of success.