Introduction to Evaluation
This paper consists of elucidating the discussion about the difference between program evaluation and research. The emphasis relies on explaining the rationale for program evaluation and providing a lens for the research perspective. For both considerations, paramount issues of utility, validity, scientific accuracy, and validity will continue to dwell in a researcher’s inquiry (McNamara, 2002; Simon,2001).
There are salient benchmarks of program evaluation that seem to appear within the research continuum. The writer/researcher presents, based on several claims about program evaluation made by Simon (2001), and Taylor-Powell, Steele, & Douglah (1996), the selected tenets: experiential learning, which involves a type of learning experience based on reflection, direct observations for program activities, or practices, and data collection .The writer/researcher sees in both processes a linkage to phenomenology inquiries in qualitative research design, and scientific data collection techniques and analysis for quantitative research designs(Creswell, 2009 ; Lincoln and Guba, 1985). Using experiential learning to reflect catapults to life experiences, or meaning of life experiences, as important frameworks in phenomenology inquiries (Giorgi, 1971). To approach data phenomenologically, the attitude of openness for whatever is significant aids in understanding the phenomena (Giorgi, 1971). Van Manen (2002) argued for experiential learning as a source for meaning of life experiences. Schutz (1967) posited meaning of one’s lived experiences, as sometimes the other’s own subjective experiences.
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A researcher uses the methodology of phenomenology as a guide in conducting interviews, collecting data, and then analyzing it. Planning for program evaluation involves similar steps to collecting information. Nonetheless, the process differs. Qualitative research methodology focuses on asking questions about phenomena for the purpose of expanding perspectives and understanding about the phenomena (Singer, 1998). In program evaluation, using the data by asking how it will be analyzed, interpreted, and what is its impact on people’s needs and learning are essential questions to be raised to ascertain good evaluation (Taylor-Powell, Steele, & Douglah, 1996).
What is Program Evaluation?
Program evaluation is a conceptual tool utilizing a systemic approach based on specific required questions or topics of concern, to analyze or interpret if useful information that governs the utility of a program has led to the satisfaction of its goals, objectives or purposes, according to the needs of its intended users/clientele, and implementation of a quality service delivery.
Program evaluation seeks to provide greater understanding of its rationale, purposes, and planning process. Program evaluation is focused on reflecting on how the purpose of the evaluation, the intended information (data collection) helps anchor program outcomes, provides clear knowledge, and appropriate answers (Taylor-Powell, Steele, & Douglah, 1996). Another focus is on its utilization, or practicability.
The systemic approach encompasses the following questions: What is to be evaluated? What is needed for management to make informed decisions? who will use the evaluation, what questions are necessary to be addressed, and what are the available resources (McNamara, 2002; Simon,2001). As Simon (2001) rightfully argued, it is a form of inquiry that allows stakeholders (who benefits from the program, staff and professionals) to benefit from a quality program, in which various suppliers, and professional agents have invested positive participation, human capital, displayed ethical values, geared at influencing the nature of a program.
In assessing the rationale for conducting program evaluation, a prudent analyst ought to consider whether the reasons and methods tally issues of accountability, improvement, and marketability(advertising). Simon (2001, p3)) defined marketing as the external demand suggesting that a program can work. Issues of program evaluation effectiveness are important for an avid decision-maker to ensure that a program is set to do what it was intended to, according to its objectives, a clear delivery mechanism, feedbacks (learned experiences), and the possibility of generalizability: replication of the program elsewhere. Consistent with Simon’s (2001) postulates of models of evaluation: needs assessment, feasibility, study, process evaluation, outcome evaluation, and cost benefit analysis, the writer/researcher sees the client as an integrant or vital part of the program evaluation continuum. These postulates do improve delivery mechanisms when an evaluator is apt to discern inherent strengths and weaknesses to improve a program or programs.
Research entails the use of either scientific or empirical data, various statistical, non-statistical data analysis to make an informed decision, or claims about hypotheses formulation, identify research questions, advancing methods or procedures for data collection and analysis. It sees to make true statements about relationships of interest, and or among variables (Creswell, 2009). It also encompasses a mindful inquiry to explore some subjective questions when the design is qualitative. There are ethical concerns related to data collection, the use of participants, and reporting findings. A sound research proposal will ensure there is a section about assumptions, limitations, and delimitations.
At the core of a research endeavor, lies a philosophical assumption about theory formulation, a researcher can use before starting the process. Theories are essential forms of inquiry, Creswell (2009) posited. For quantitative research, they provide a platform of explanation for the relationship among variables. In qualitative research, they serve as a lens for the inquiry (Creswell, 2009).
Differences Between Program Evaluation and Research
It would be asinine for a researcher to fail to depict the contributions of a research, albeit its assumptions, limitations, and delimitations, along the research validity, and reliability, the writer/researcher contends. The same argument can be made for a program evaluation lacking purposes, having an ill-defined population, unknown sources of data collection, and a lack of process (process evaluation). The process evaluation helps establish a clear path for service delivery, entry to the program, its requirements, and the process to follow throughout the program. The above considerations yield to the following differences:
1) Program evaluation seeks to determine the effectiveness of a program, whereas research
seeks to determine relationships among variables (quantitative) or exploring and understanding a human problem (qualitative).
2) While program evaluation is a type of another inquiry to reach effectiveness of a specific
program, research considers validity, and reliability as a litmus test for statistical analysis or interpretation, from which a statistically significant variable is assessed, or a correlational relationship exists.
3) Program evaluation emphasizing experiential program evaluation is the use of research-related skills to ascertain goals, objectives, accuracy, success, utility, effectiveness of programs, and quality. Research, on the contrary, relies on methods addressing data collection, questions, data analysis, validation that infer the research goals and objectives. In case of qualitative research, selected strategies of inquires vary (experimental, ethnography, phenomenology, life stories interviewing, etc.).
4) Shareholders in program evaluation consists of various groups such as staff, groups, professionals, individuals who consume the program (Simon, 2001). For a research platform, the sample size, and variables consist the core of the statistical analysis leading to interpretations.
5) Issues of accountability, improvement, and marketability(advertising) that management
is keen to promote in program evaluation do not cross over to research. They are locally confined. On the contrary, research relies on degree of significance among variables, reliability, and research replications across worldwide boundaries from sound statistical analyses.
6) While program evaluation relies on what is to be evaluated, research seeks to understand,
explore, determine a specific assumption, a problem, how variables relate in questions, and hypotheses, according to the research design as worldview, strategies, and methods: the research design.
7) Program evaluation assumes success in implementation and assessing right programs, while research uses standards of validity, reliability, and highlights clear assumptions, limitations, and delimitations.
Creswell, J.W. (2009). Research design: qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approach. (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Giorgi, A. (1971). An application of the phenomenology method in psychology. In A. Giorgi, C. Fisher, & E. Murray (Eds), Duquesne studies in phenomenology (Vol.II, p.75), PA: Duquesne University Press.
Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E.G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
McNamara, C. (2002). Basic guide to program evaluation. Retrieved from the worldwide web 10/17/2019 from https://www.tgci.com/sites/default/files/pdf/A%20Basic%20Guide%20to%20Program%20Evaluation.pdf
Schutz, A. (1967). The phenomenology of the social world (trans. George Walsh & Frederick Lehmert). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
Simon, P. (2001). A program evaluation primer. The Journal of Experiential Education, 24(1), 34.40.
Singer, M.B. (1998). A twice-told tale: A phenomenological inquiry into client’s perceptions of therapy. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Nova Southeastern University, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Taylor-Powell, Steele, S., Douglah, M. (1996). Planning a program evaluation. G3658-1 Program development and evaluation. University of Wisconsin-Extension. Cooperation Extension.
Van Manen, M. (2002). Phenomenology online: Phenomenology inquiry. Retrieved from http://www.phenomenologyonline.com/inquiry/1.html