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Tuesday, September 17 • 1:30pm - 2:30pm
"Fellows Forum Contributions of Theory to Evaluation Practice: Examples from the Field"

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John Owen (The University of Melbourne), Rick Cummings (Murdoch University)

Purpose. To identify different meanings of theory as they have emerged within the evaluation discipline over time and through this show how relevant evaluation theory can enhance the quality of evaluation practice.

Argument. The notion of theory can be a mystery, especially to neophyte evaluators. This is not surprising as there is no one meaning assigned to evaluation theory; we have identified four such meanings in the literature: (1) Scriven/Fournier's basic theory (judgment of program worth) (2) Bennett/Chen's program theory (logic), (3) Shadish's theories of action of significant evaluators (eg Carol Weiss), and (4) 'funded knowledge', social theories or meta-analyses now known as best practice reviews in a field of knowledge, (eg staff development). Practising evaluators need to be mindfully clear about each of these theory types and distinctions, and to understand how they have influenced and advanced the development of evaluation as a discipline.

Implications for Practice. We believe that the quality of evaluation will be enhanced if evaluators are in a position to consider knowledge and concepts that arise from these theories when scoping evaluation work; and to incorporate them into their research designs, and in the dissemination of findings to key audiences.

Session Format. A panel of AES Fellows will provide examples of how the use of theory has contributed to a study in which they have been the principal evaluator. There will be opportunities for other Fellows to comment, and for the audience to pose questions and/or contribute examples that illustrate the advantages of incorporating theory into evaluation designs.

Conclusion. The incorporation of theory in an evaluation is a sign that this area of knowledge can be regarded as a discipline, as distinct from a craft. An important message is that aspiring evaluators need to participate in formal or informal training programs which offer opportunities to come to grips with the salience of evaluation theory.


Marion Norton

Manager Research and Evaluation, Qld DJAG


John Owen

Principal Fellow, Centre for Program Evaluation, University of Melbourne
In keeping with his academic interests in knowledge utilization, John Owen is committed to evaluation strategies that promote change and improvement in policy and program delivery. He is of the view that commissioned evaluations should respond to the knowledge needs of decision makers... Read More →
avatar for Rick Cummings

Rick Cummings

Emeritus Professor, Murdoch University
Rick Cummings is an Emeritus Professor in Public Policy at Murdoch University. He has 40 years of experience conducting evaluation studies in education, training, health, and crime prevention primarily for the state and commonwealth government agencies and the World Bank. He currently... Read More →

Tuesday September 17, 2019 1:30pm - 2:30pm AEST