The Complex Challenge of Evaluation

From Section:
Education & Administration
May. 17, 2011
May 17, 2011

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


In a recent post on eJewish Philanthropy, Dr. Meredith Woocher, Director of Research and Evaluation at Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning, addressed some of the issues of carrying out Jewish Education program evaluation in a world that today is so full of change and ambiguity. She suggests adopting a new approach to evaluation which is able to give meaningful results in complex environments in which change is constant and often unpredictable. She suggests adopting the “Developmental Evaluation” model pioneered by renowned evaluator Michael Quinn Patton.


She writes:

"The role of developmental evaluation in this model is to facilitate the development (hence the name) of innovations (programs, initiatives, interventions, etc.) by providing ongoing feedback about how the innovation is interacting with the people and settings it touches. On the surface the activities of developmental evaluation look the same as any other type of evaluation – surveys are distributed, people are interviewed, data are compiled and presented. But the focus and purpose of the evaluative work is quite different: making sense of complex patterns of behavior rather than testing pre-determined outcomes; developing highly adaptable “effective principles” rather than standardized “best practices;” exploring possibilities for innovation rather than judging a program to be a success or failure….


The key evaluation question, then, is not “Did this program work?” or even “Did we achieve our intended goals?” but “What are we learning about the realities in which this program operates, and how can we use our growing knowledge to increase our ability to achieve impact?” Not quite as simple and straightforward, perhaps, but then neither is the world we live in."

Updated: Feb. 07, 2017
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