This was a really great webinar. I furiously took notes of as many of the insightful things the panelists were talking about. The notes are imperfect (I tried to catch some direct quotes inside quotation marks, but some of this is paraphrased – any errors are my own! If you are really interested in this topic, you can check out a recording of the webinar here and there are a bunch of resources that the speakers shared at the end of this posting.
multicultural validity is a “call to broaden the kinds of evidence that are considered in validity conversations”
limited views of “validity” promotes social injustice – it silences
5 intersections sources of intersecting validity evidence
methodological validity – the stuff we usually think of re: quant and qual (insufficient as the only source of evidence)
theoretical evidence – “insights from social sciences and humanities and professions”, Indigenous wisdom; program theories (examine these for bias towards deficits and disadvantage)
relational evidence – “how people relate to one another, to our planet, to the universe”; “how power is exercised in relationships”; collaborative and participatory approaches ‘ position relationships as positive, but this is not always true. e.g., “inclusion” can “twist” into a settler invitation to assimilate
experiential evidence grounds our understanding in the lives of the community members; “calls evaluators to spend time with communities, upon being invited”
consequential evidence – brings accountability to our work; examine what happens or fails to happen as a result” if “evaluation does not move the needle towards social justice, what does that tell us about our accuracy and adequacy of our prior understandings?”
multicultural validity is a lens through which we should view our claims (e.g., claims of
“evidence-based policy making” has been embraced in OECD trails and a focus on RCTs as being the way to demonstrate evidence
likes the term “impactees” rather than “beneficiaries” (because you don’t know if they are benefiting!)
concerned with standards used in various registries to judge research
working on an advanced set of evidence standards – broadening view of causation, context, equity
fit methods to the questions
3 books influential in her thinking of cultural humility and in understanding racism, sexism, and classism (Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, White Trash: 400 Years of Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg; Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez)
evaluations often based on the opinions of what is “rigourous” according to the funder and the evaluator, but not necessarily on the people who the program is supposed to serve
we as evaluators often term sticky note activities as “participatory”, but is that what the community consider to be the ways they participate
if we enact oppressive ways of “participating”, we are robbing people of their identities
how can our practices restore our humanity as evaluators?
“an expertise that privileges distance (another word for “objectivity”)”
co-constructed a reflective framework
“the extractive nature of inquiry” vs. a way to restore
seek to heal and restore rather than to “prove a point”
storytelling as valid and impactful
scientific and policy and academic humility to add to the idea of cultural humility
we must understanding history in our context to walk together in a good way
our experiences matter, how we got here today
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
braiding requires tension – “tension is respected and expected”
the more tension in the knot, the stronger it is – intersectionalities
think of the 575 tribes as a nation state
refers to self as a “blue collar scholar”
“we have to get upriver”
not much has changed despite many years of reports, etc.
lets bring some wisdom into that work, instead of just “evidence”
learn about sovereign nations
build capacity, competency, and skills on how to work nation-to-nation
how do you make RFP policies so that we can build things differently and start piloting and testing things to look for better outcomes
who owns the data – how we publish
if we are trying to learn how to do things differently together, we need to dedicate more time and resources to do that
think about who is here and who is not here
There is not one “evaluation community” – only a small proportion of those are members of evolution associations
much evaluation is done by outside contractors
social impact investing” not part of evaluation community, do a lot of evaluation work
lots of people have not had training in evaluation, let alone training in culturally responsive evaluation, cultural humility
some foundations (like Kellogg) and organizations like CREA that have been doing this stuff for a long time
the Urban Institute – lots of free materials you can download
cultural humility is so important – you can never fully understand another community/culture, you don’t just do a training on cultural humility/responsiveness and say you are done
cultural competence is a stance – it’s infused across the AEA competencies, not a single “competency”
cultural competence implies an “end point” – that term may have outliving its usefulness
legal political aspects – Tribal Nations are the only groups within “cultural responsive” that have this status
there’s been work on cultural responsive evaluation for a long time (e.g., growth of TIGs, diversity work in AEA)
intersectionality theory has had a huge impact – “it messes everything up. which is a good thing”
things that disrupt and shakes us up is a
within society at large, the pandemic has raised awareness of inequities and the anger and outrage of the murder of Black citizens
and recognition that historic “solutions” have not been working
if you codify things into law, it changes society
The “evidence act”
current administration released something talking about the importance of Indigenous wisdom
younger generations do not see disciplinary and other lanes, “everything is related”; they don’t see boundaries they see opportunities, “putting together this beautiful quilt”
e.g., government TIG reaches out to Indigenous TIG all the time
we need to braid this together
I teach and our discussions show that students are thinking critically about how evaluations have not met the mandate because they are not considering cultural
qualitative and mixed methods are more and more becoming the body of research and evaluation, we may have reached a tipping point
many of the standards of evidence are “canonized” with positivist notions of “validity”, but more qualitative researchers are coming to the fore to challenge this; KN’s new standards are in a manuscript she’s
“we are more concerned with being ‘scientific enough’ than te are about being relevant”
demonstrated to where the money flows – to quant research – so those researchers hold more power and control
in participatory, community-based, it is assumed that “participation is good” , but as KK mentioned, it’s not always so
we have to ask why people are being asked to participate, are they being compensated? do they have time? often funders give excuses as to why “we can’t pay individuals”
processes often silence minoritized or under-resources communities
people often showcase the “participatory method” as the end goal, as opposed to how the method promotes mutual understanding, without that we don’t get to relational evidence, liberation
there’s an Indigenous data sovereignty network
they are publishing in the data science literature too
data = power
“I need courageous, compassionate, and curious people”
mostly white males and females fill these positions that have the power and priveldge
we have to talk about power and privilege and capitalism, uncomfortable things
red, white, yellow, black are all the colours on our medicine wheel, all working together
we have no business making policy on things we know nothing about
we are all learning different things – e.g., “I don’t have experience in LGBT+, but have been invited into the work because I know Native stuff and they know that I will come in a humble way”
you can learn about communities based on what they are posting in social media
we learn, unlearn, and relearn together
we have to think of where the money is going
evaluation work is contract based
we’ve broadened our thinking about how we do evaluation funding. Learning about how communities do things rather than funding projects for evaluators to go in and say “tell us everything you know”
book on inclusive engagement
we think “engagement” is saying “we are having a meeting on Wed at 7 pm so we can tell you what we are going to do to you” – that’s not engagement
what are communities getting from this?
need to think of inclusion at design stage, not just at evaluator
evaluators come into projects too late to do a lot of this work sometimes
the term “rigour” is interesting – has a specific ontological assumption that there is a truth that evaluations have to find; probably not how to think about it. tends to compete with ideas of multicultural sensitivities. A very rigid view of rigour
rigiour is often invoked against multicultural sensitivities. – my answer is that nothing is more rigiour than triangulating multiple sources of data
if your “rigour” is working why are Native people still experiencing such high levels of ditabets, suicide, lower rates of graduation at high school, universities – your rigour is not working, since we are not getting the outcomes
“lets go beyond “do not harm” and be a good relative”
when you get a “significant” result in an evaluation saying there’s a , people often don’t ask “does it work well for everyone? does it work well in different contexts”
there are courses on decolonizing methodologies
where is the money going?
There were a tonne of resources suggested during the workshop. Here are some that I’m planning on checking out:
Johnston-Goodstar, K. (2012). Decolonizing evaluation: The necessity of evaluation advisory groups in Indigenous evaluation. New Directions for Evaluation, 136, 109-117.
Smith, L. T. (2012). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples (2nd ed.). New York: Zed Books.
Dean-Coffey, J., Casey, J., & Caldwell, L. D. (2014). Raising the bar – integrating cultural competence and cquity: Equitable evaluation. The Foundation Review, 6(2). https://doi.org/10.9707/1944-5660.1203
Kirkhart, K. E. (2016). Equity, privilege and validity: Traveling companions or strange bedfellows? In S. I. Donaldson & R. Picciotto (Eds.), Evaluation for an equitable society (pp. 109-131). Greenwich, CT: Information Age.
LaFrance, J., Nichols, R., & Kirkhart, K. E. (2012). Culture writes the script: On the centrality of context in Indigenous evaluation. In D. J. Rog, J. Fitzpatrick, & R. F. Conner (Eds.), Context: A framework for its influence on evaluation practice. New Directions for Evaluation, 135, 59-74.
Kirkhart, K. E. (2010). Eyes on the prize: Multicultural validity and evaluation theory. American Journal of Evaluation, 31(3), 400-413.
Johnson, E. C., Kirkhart, K. E., Madison, A. M., Noley, G. B., & Solano-Flores, G. (2008). The impact of narrow views of scientific rigor on evaluation practices for underrepresented groups. In N. L. Smith & P. Brandon (Eds.) Fundamental issues in evaluation. (pp. 197-218). New York: Guilford.
Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
White Trash: 400 Years of Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
Title: The “Coin Model of Privilege and Critical Allyship”: Orienting Ourselves for Accountable Action on Equity
Speaker: Dr. Stephanie Nixon, University of Toronto
Hosted by: Simon Fraser University, Faculty of Health Sciences
Dr. Nixon asked us to jot down our thoughts on the following three questions:
What are new insights?
the coin model = privilege (unearned advantages) and oppression (unearned disadvantages)
we have words for those people whose health is affected by oppressions: “marginalized”, “vulnerable”, “at risk”, “target population” – but we don’t have any words for those people who are on the other side of the coin. We frame equity as solely around those on the bottom of the coin – and we thus limit our thinking of possible solutions to these “problem” of the bottom of the coin – we disappear those on the “top of the coin” – we disappear the coin altogether
we frame the privileged as neutral instead of as complicit in the oppression
when is EDI used to avoid actually dealing with oppression?
What feels important but is still muddy?
What do I feel as I lean into reflecting on privilege? body, emotions. (“We cannot think our way out of oppression.”)
I’ve seen the original version of this experiment, and appreciated this updated version. When they did the reveal, I felt my stomach fall – I missed something that should be so obvious again! I also appreciated Dr. Nixon’s use of this as a metaphor for privilege: e.g., those who don’t experience oppression not only don’t see it, they don’t believe it when others tell them that they experience it and gaslight them by saying that what they have experienced did not happen.
strengths that helped me get to my level of education: parents who supported me to pursue higher education, availability of student loans; barriers: cost of tuition and living as a student without an income, not having role models in my family who had done higher education before
the people on the “bottom” of the coin are the experts on how oppression affects them – those on the privileged side of the coin can’t see the ways in which they are privileged (it’s like the gorilla!)
white supremacy – the view that white is “normal”, the “default”
people on one side of the coin are not homogeneous – e.g., if we think about colonialism, the people on the oppressed side are indigenous, and there are many different indigenous groups; similarly, the group on the privileged side of the coin of colonialism are settlers and they are also not homogenous
education on antiracism, anti-oppression is not enough – it doesn’t change the material conditions that people experience, it doesn’t dismantle the systems of oppression
what is my work to do on “EDI”?
when you are on the top of a coin, you need to work in solidary with the people who are experiencing the oppression
it is not about the person with privilege “saving” or “fixing” the populations experiencing the oppression
when privilege is unchecked it leads to an irrational sense of neutrality
when you are on “top” of the coin, you need to understand your position as having unearned privilege (and even recognizing there is a coin) and that you are not the expert
Sophie Otiende, Activist and Advocate, HAART Kenya:
non-profits “parade and exploit” the people they are claiming to help
e.g., asking someone who has been assisted by an NPO to share their story – the organization holds power over the victim – can that survivor give proper consent about telling their stories?
“survivor porn” – why do we need a person to come and tell us that these horrible things are bad?
people don’t talk to survivors about the risks and impacts of telling your story. People live in an ideal world where they think that if they tell their story, people will be compassionate. But that’s not true – some people will abuse those who tell their stories, or we just forget about the person and move onto to getting the next survivor’s stories
we are interested in the whole person -not just their trauma
not everyone wants to be called “survivor” or “person who formerly experienced homelessness” or “recovering addict” – how does the person whose story is being told want to be represented?
the person whose story it is should be a full partner in the storytelling
ensure they are in the loop at all developments in the storytelling and being extra sure at every step that they are comfortable with any details that are shared
never want to surprise someone with details about their story being made public
don’t want to engage in trauma porn – just sharing the trauma in isolation
figure out what the message is – e.g., in a story on the Me Too movement in the charitable sector, the message was that serial predators are hiding in the charitable sector and their institutions are protecting them
figure out what the purpose of telling the story is – things like holding organizations to account or highlighting resilience
when conducting interviews, establish trust and intimacy
be fully present in the interview
ask follow up questions, based on really listening to them, rather than just following the interview guide in order
don’t drive the interview – the interviewee should have autonomy and control. The story is hers, not the interviewer’s
interviewer’s job is to help the interviewee feel safe
we should let people know what their rights are – that they can say “no” to answering our questions
interviewing “experts” (e.g., professors who study a topic)
isn’t someone who has years of experience living with homelessness an expert on the subject?
“professional” “experts” are often well rehearsed when you interview them – you have to push them to be real, rather than just being on auto-pilot
think about the stereotypes you may be perpetuating with your storytelling
Sheila Matano, who is the VP of the board of the BC Chapter of the Canadian Evaluation Society (CESBC), who is also the chair of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee, told me about this two-part webinar series. Like many boards, we are wanting to do better when it comes to doing our work in an inclusive way, and we didn’t want to just put out a board statement that says “Black Lives Matters” but then just go on operating the way that we always have. So I was excited to check out this series for some concrete ideas about how we can do this well. And I was not disappointed!
board statements need to state a commitment to what you are going to do
it’s not about waiting out the uprising until you can go “back to business”
how can boards use their influence in a way that aligns with their mission?
the work needs to be done by the whole board – it’s not to be on the one Black person on your board to own this work. It can be retraumatizing for them. And Black people are tired from fighting for centuries – white people need to step up.
look at your board composition – we need a diverse board and a coalition of all of us
Understanding our history:
we are a post-colonial society – there was a narrative that “natives” were “savage” –> white supremacy –> allowed white people to enslave Black people
slavery did not end – it just evolved
there is still a presumption of danger re: Black and brown people
truth and reconcilitation/justice/reparation are sequential – the truth must come first
as boards, we need to tell the truth about what we’ve ignored, overlooked, and benefitted from
Myth: “It’s just a few bad actors”
RS: this myth “minimizes the centuries long struggled that Black, brown, indigenous people have experienced”
it is a system of racism:
restricts every aspect of life for Black, brown, and indigenous people (healthcare, criminal justice, politics, education, wealth – everything)
institutional policies/practices/laws/regulations designed to benefit and create advantages for white people and oppress and disadvantage Black, brown, and indigenous people
exists no matter your age, location, socioeconomic status
VW: we have a lot to unlearn
we’ve been socialized to not talk about race
boards should talk about why they are so uncomfortable to talk about race
boards should learn about unconscious bias
do you have authentic relationships with Black and brown people? Because we’ve been separated
COVID-19 and this uprising = perfect storm, because people had time to reflect and feel the pain
we can’t show up effectively for the board work if you haven’t done the individual work
Myth: People try to replace “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter”
VW: saying “Black Lives Matter” is not saying “only Black Lives Matter” – it’s saying “Black Lives Matter too”
there is violence against Black bodies, often by state actors
lots of people have heard that “race is a social construct”, but they don’t get it. They think there are differences between the races that justify the violence, but there are not.
“waking up Black” has a level of stress that is measurable – decreased life expectancy, gaps in educational acheivement, maternal mortality, criminal justice system involvement – bias and systemic racism leads to all of this
RS: people misunderstand “racial equity” – it means the state where my racial identity doesn’t have an impact on me -e.g., I can go to the bank or go birdwatching and my racial identity does not dictate the outcome
A board statement alone is not enough
When they polled the webinar audience, about 3/4 said that their board had issues a statement in the wake of the BLM protests, but only 1/4 said that their board had an indepth conversation about the issues
VM: some statements just say something to the effect of “we stand with you”, but nothing about what they will actually do
good statements will say what they are doing and what they commit to doing
there was a backlash if you didn’t put out a statement, and there was also a backlash if your statement didn’t have any teeth – it shows that people are paying attention
put putting out a statement for the sake of public perception is not good
Questions to ask when if and when you do speak out:
These are taken verbatim from their slide:
How does your statement acknowledge the historical injustices of structural and systemic racism?
How do you use the document to bring about awareness concerning systemic and structural racism to your audiences?
How does the statement align with your organization’s mission?
Is your organization willing to be an ally in supporting the work? If so, how?
What is the call to action and committment to the work? Examples can include:
How do you plan to alleviate barriers and create access to opportunities to bring about equitable and just outcomes?
How do you plan to leverage the various forms of capital that are at your disposal to address the issues?
Source: Robert L. Dortch, Jr. Vice President, Programs & Innovation, Robins Foundation
As I look at these questions, I think that not only are they useful for our work on the CESBCY board, but they can also be helpful for me to think about how I do my teaching.
Since it’s been a while since I last wrote a blog psoting in this series, and since I stopped in the middle of the “technical competencies” domain, let’s review where we are at. The first competency in the “Technical Domain” was about figuring out what the purpose and scope of an evaluation – what is the evaluation trying to do and what ground is it going to cover (and what is it not going to cover). The next competency was about figuring out if a program is in a state in which it is ready to be evaluated and the third competency was about making program theories explicit. This brings us to the fourth competency in the technical domain:
2.4 Frames evaluation topics and questions
People often get confused when we say “evaluation questions”, thinking that we are referring a question you might ask in an interview or survey (like “were you satisfied with the services you received?”). But the “evaluation question” we are referring to here (sometimes referred to a “Key Evaluation Questions” (KEQ)) are a higher-level than that; they are an overarching question (or a few questions) that guide the development of the evaluation.
An important thing to remember about evaluation questions is that they should be evaluative. Not just “what happened as a result of this program?” but “how “good” were the things that happened from the program?” (where “good” needs to be fleshed out – e.g., what do we consider “good”? how “good” is good enough to be considered “good?”).
they should be open-ended (not something that you can answer with “yes” or “no”)
they should be “specific enough to help focus the evaluation, but broad enough to be broken down into more detailed questions to guide data collection”
they should relate to the intended purpose of the evaluation
7 +/- 2 is a good number to have
you should work your stakeholders to development them
I think it’s really important to think about who gets to decide on what the evaluation questions are. Since the rest of the evaluation will be built based on the questions, whoever gets to decide on the questions holds a lot of power. This could be a whole blog posting topic on its own, but in the interest of actually getting this posted, I think I will leave that for another day.
Over on my personal blog, I’ve decided to try blogging every day in the spirit of November as National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) – that was a thing years ago when blogs were more popular. The idea is to blog every single day during the month of November. That got me thinking that it had been a while since I blogged here… and it turns out that has been more than a year!
I remembered that I had been doing a series on evaluator competencies where I wrote one blog posting a week on each of the Canadian Evaluation Society (CES) evaluator competencies and that I had decided to take a “short break” when stuff was getting busy with the courses I was teaching. So “short” may have not been the right word there. In my defence, the world was turned rather upside down for most of that time, what with a global pandemic and reckoning on racism.
My other issue with actually getting things up on here is my battle with perfectionism. During these pandemic-y times I’ve been doing a fair bit of professional development 1As presentations and workshops have had to move online in response to the pandemic, it’s resulted in a lot of events that otherwise might have been just held locally being available anywhere in the world. And with a reckoning on racism bringing more attention to the work of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour) activists, scholars, and organizations, webinars on anti-racism and reconciliation have been amplified. and from the various webinars and online workshops I’ve attended, I’ve started many, many blog postings as a way to capture notes from these events. But then I think “Oh, I need to summarize this better/come up with a good conclusion/figure out what actions I should take from what I’ve learned/find a good Creative Commons licenced photo to go with this/provide links to the webinar recording/etc./etc.” and then it sits in my drafts folder for ever and ever.
So here’s my new plan. I’m going to re-start on my evaluator competency series – I’ll post once a week on that. And I’m going work through my drafts folder and actually get my notes from each of these events in a reasonable, but not perfect, shape, and post those too. Or I’ll decide that I didn’t get enough value from a given webinar or workshop and hit the “delete” button. I won’t blog every day – but I’m going to aim for two blog postings per week in addition to my evaluator competency one, for the month of November.
As presentations and workshops have had to move online in response to the pandemic, it’s resulted in a lot of events that otherwise might have been just held locally being available anywhere in the world. And with a reckoning on racism bringing more attention to the work of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour) activists, scholars, and organizations, webinars on anti-racism and reconciliation have been amplified.
These are my rough notes from today’s CES webinar.
Speaker: Evan Poncelet
was asked “are retrospective post test (RPTs) legit?”, so it did some research on them
you can’t always do a pre-test (e.g., evaluator brought on after program has started; providing a crisis service, you can’t ask someone to do a pre-test first)
“response shift bias” – “you don’t know what you don’t know”. Respondents have a different understanding of the survey topic before and after an intervention. So they might rate their knowledge high before an intervention, then they learn more about the topic during the intervention and realize that they didn’t actually know as much as they thought they did. So afterwards, you rate your knowledge lower (or rate it as the same as before the intervention, but only because while you learned a lot of stuff, you also know more about the topics that you still don’t know). So you have a different internal standard before and after the intervention that you are judging yourself against.
a brief history of RPTs
emerge in the literature in 1950s (not much research on them – more “if you can’t do pre/post, do RPT”)
1963 – suggested as an alternative to pre/post or a supplement (if you do both pre test and an RPT, you can detect historical effects)
1970s-80s – suggested as a supplement to pre-test; research on RPTs (as a way to detect response shift bias)
now – typically used in place of pre-test; common in proD workshops (e.g., a one-day workshop)
what do they look like?
e.g., give a survey after a webinar:
Before the Webinar
I’m confident in designing RPT
Agree Neutral Disagree
Agree Neutral Disagree
But if you have the pre next to post on the same survey, very easy to give a socially desirable answer or to have answer affected by effort justification (i.e., people say there was an improvement to justify the time they spent taking part in the program)
give separate surveys for pre and post (to reduce the social desirability bias)
research shows that separate surveys does show reduced bias, more validity
another option: perceived change:
Rate your improvement attributable to webinar
Your confidence in designing RPT
Low Med High
None A little Some A lot
research shows this option shows this is subject to social desirable bias
not a lot of research (could probably use more research)
advantages of RPTs
addresses response shift bias
provides a baseline (e.g., if missing pre-data)
research supports validity and reliability (e.g., an objective test of skill is compared with results of these surveys)
can be anonymous (don’t have to match pre- and post-surveys via an ID)
convenient and feasible
disadvantages of RPTs
motivation biases (e.g., social desirability bias, effort justification bias, implicit theory of change (you expect a chance to happen, so you report a change has happened)
can use a “lie scale” (e.g., include an item in your survey that has nothing to do with the intervention and see if people say they got better at that thing that wasn’t even in your intervention – detect people over inflating the effect of the workshop)
memory recall (so be very specific in your questions – e.g., “since you began the program in September…”). If you have long interventions, may be really high to recall
program attrition – missing data from dropouts (could actively try to collect data from the dropouts)
methodological preferences of the audience (what will your audience consider credible. RPTs are not well known and some may not consider them a credible source)
triangulate data with other methods and sources (a good general principle!)
do post-test first, followed by RPT (research shows this gives respondents an easier frame of reference – it’s easier to rate how they are now, and then think about before)
type of information being collected:
if you want to see absolute change (frequency, occurrence) – do traditional pre/post test (it can be hard to remember specific counts of things later)
changes in perception (emotions, opinions, perceived knowledge) – do RPT
It’s that busy time in the semester when the marking for the courses that I’m teaching is piling up and I am also working furiously on a couple of online courses (in addition to my day job). So I’ve decided that I’m going to take a wee break from writing my (nearly) weekly blog series on evaluator competencies until I get through this backlog of other work.
Recognizing our limitations and being about to prioritize are important competencies for an evaluator, right?
I really like helping programs figure out what their theory of change is. Early in my career as an evaluator, I was surprised how often I would work with a program that had no idea what its theory was. Like, you’d sit down with them and ask questions about what they were trying to achieve and how what they thought what they were doing was going to help them achieve it – and they didn’t know. They had never really thought about it. The program was the way it was by some combination of it having been started by someone in some way at some time for some reason and then it had been adapted over the years in response to funding cuts/new funding opportunities/new leadership/new research/[enter all sort of other possible factors here]. While talking about this with my class this weekend (I’m teaching a Program Planning & Evaluation course in a Masters of Health Administration program), one student described the programs that she’s worked on as having been MacGyvered and I absolutely love that description!
Perhaps way back when a program started there had been an idea of a program theory – or possibly not – but it’s been MacGyvered over the years and often there us no record of any original program theory. And so I discovered that an important part of work as an evaluator is often to help the program make explicit the theory of why they think the program will result in changes to achieve whatever it is trying to achieve. Because even if a program doesn’t have an explicit program theory, there is some implicit theory underneath.
And there are many benefits about making your program ‘s theory of change explicit. As an evaluator, I want to know what the program’s theory is so I can design an evaluation to test the theory. But it can also be quite helpful to the program itself – helping them to get everyone on the same page about what the program is actually trying to achieve and getting them to think about whether what their program does is likely to get them there. Also, sometimes mapping out a program theory helps a program to identify that it is doing activities that are not likely to help them achieve their goals. It’s surprising how often programs do things because “we’ve always done these things”, even though they may no longer be needed or relevant. Working through a program theory can help identify those things.
Oftentimes, I work with those involved in the program to clarify the theory by developing a logic model together. There is a debate about whether a logic model is or is not a program’s theory of change. According to Michael Quinn Patton (2012), a logic model is simply a description of a logical sequence, but “specifying the causal mechanisms transforms a logic model into a theory of change”, i.e., you need to “explicitly add the change mechanism” to make it a theory of change. I like this explanation because it reminds us that a logic model on its own isn’t quite enough to be a “theory of change” so we need to think about what is the actual mechanism that is believed to lead to the change.
Thinking about how I do the work of clarifying program theory, I think my tips would be:
however you choose to clarify a program’s theory of change, do it collaboratively with as many people who have an interest in the program as possible. This is important because:
different people bring different perspectives and thus can help us to more fully understand how the program operates and the effects it can have
a lot of the value of clarifying a program theory comes from the process. Finding out that people aren’t on the same page as one another about what the program is doing and why, identifying gaps in your program’s logic, surfacing assumptions that people involved in the program have – all of this can lead to rich conversations and shared understanding of the program among those involved and you just don’t get that by handing someone a description of a program theory that was created by just one or two people.
a program theory should be thought of as a living thing. You can’t just map out a program theory once and think “well, that’s done!” Programs change, contexts change, people change… and our theories of change need to change to keep up with all of that!
This topic is also a good time to plug the free online logic modelling software that my sister, her partner, and I created: Dylomo (short for DYnamic LOgic MOdels). You can sign up for free and play around with it. Apologies in advance for any bugs – we created it off the side of our desks, so haven’t had time to add all the features we would like. If you do have any issues with it – or feedback about it – do get in touch!
Photo of leaves was opsted on Flickr by Mehul Antani with a Creative Commons licence. Again, I couldn’t find a good free-to-use image for what I was searching for (program theory, theory of change, logic model), but while searching for “change” I found that image of leaves changing colour and thought it was beautiful.
Dylomo logo was designed by my amazing sister, Nancy Snow.