Post-Doc Blogpost: What Sets Empowerment Evaluation Apart

According to Middaugh (2010), “There is no shortage of frustration with the inability of the American higher education system to adequately explain how it operates… The Spellings Commission (2006) chastised higher education officials for lack of transparency and accountability in discussing the relationship between the cost of a college education and demonstrable student learning outcomes” (p. 109). As we continue to look into instigating and preserving positive change, I find Middaugh’s words to go beyond that of a burning platform, and instead resonate as a call to action. Empowerment evaluation is not simply about urging faculty and administrators to perform better evaluations, improving analytical or reporting skills, or increasing skills in evaluative inquiry. Empowerment evaluation in this environment is about being able to better understand one’s self, in a highly regulated and highly monitored environment where the stakes remain quite high.

As three other views into this relevance we begin with Fetterman from his article Empowerment evaluation: Building communities of practice and a culture of learning. Therein Fetterman (2002) describes, “Empowerment evaluation has an unambiguous value orientation – it is designed to help people help themselves and improve their programs using a form of self-evaluation and reflection” (p. 89). Empowerment evaluation is therefore neither strictly formative nor summative, particularly as it is not evaluation performed by evaluation personnel. Rather, it creates enhanced opportunities for sustainability as empowerment evaluation permits stakeholders to conduct their own evaluations. What is greatly advantageous about this approach, regards its direct relationship to change processes. Just as with a guiding vision in most established change processes, empowerment evaluation begins with organizational mission. Fetterman (2002) notes, “An empowerment evaluator facilitates an open session with as many staff member and participants as possible. They are asked to generate key phrases that capture the mission of the program or project” (p. 91).

Party to this line of thinking is also the step of first determining present state before defining future state. As described by Worthington (1999), “First, it is highly collaborative, with input from program stakeholders at every stage of the evaluation process. The four steps or stages of empowerment evaluation are: (1) “taking stock,” during which stage program participants rate themselves on performance; …” (p. 2). This article is equally instructive for helping to make sense of how one takes an organization from present state to future state. As Worthington (1999) later describes, “Empowerment evaluation contains elements of all three forms of participatory research. It is a reciprocal, developmental process that aims to produce ‘illumination’ and ‘liberation’ from role constraints among participants; it shares with action research a commitment to providing tools for analysis to program participants; and the evaluator takes a less directive, collaborative role” (p. 7).

Finally among the list of support articles for this post we find A framework for characterizing the practice of evaluation, with application to empowerment evaluation. This article is meaningful because it looks to provide a line of demarcation separating empowerment evaluation from other forms of evaluation. As per Smith (1999), “A useful first step in clarifying the diversity of evaluation practice might be the development of a comprehensive framework with which to compare and contrast fundamental attributes of any evaluation approach” (p. 43). Such characteristics of this framework include consideration for context, role, interest, rules, justification, and sanctions. Smith (1999) therefore continues, “This analysis of Empowerment Evaluation illustrates how the aspects of the framework (context, purpose and social role, phenomena of interest, procedural rules, methods of justification, and sanctions), are highly interrelated… The primary phenomena of interest in Empowerment Evaluation are participant self-determination, illumination, and liberation, and not the worth of programs” (p. 63). This becomes important as the line of demarcation appears not to be a single line, but one containing many interrelated facets. Yet if the core of empowerment evaluation is to focus on the increased capability of evaluative inquiry among organizational stakeholders, this becomes a differentiated form of evaluation reporting which remains tantamount to determining whether one was successful in inciting such a transformation in reality. I will thus continue my search for not only continued understanding of how empowerment evaluation differs from other forms of evaluation, yet will equally focus on how communicating results and instigating change affect the very outputs of this process in specific.

Fetterman, D. M. (2002). Empowerment evaluation: Building communities of practice and a culture of learning. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30(1), 89-102.

Fetterman, D. M. & Wandersman, A. (2005). Empowerment evaluation: Principles in practice. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Middaugh, M. F. (2010). Planning and assessment in higher education: Demonstrating institutional effectiveness. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Smith, N. L. (1999). A framework for characterizing the practice of evaluation, with application to empowerment evaluation. The Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, 14, 39-68.

Worthington, C. (1999). Empowerment evaluation: Understanding the theory behind the framework. The Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, 14(1), 1-28.

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