Context in Evaluation

Chapter 12

Question 2: Why do you think it is important to understand the context of the object being evaluated?

This connects to the Situational Analysis competency which I wrote about previously.  I was struck by the emphasis on flexibility, realizing just how much a good evaluator must be able to roll with the punches.  Moreover, the practices of Situational Analysis also focus on the uniqueness of every client, program, and site.  This is the context asked about in this question.  It is easy to want to apply a certain mold to all, but this shows us the importance of focusing on what makes each client unique.

I’m reading The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfeld Fisher right now.  (My old book group in Palo Alto read it, piquing my interest.)  This novel was written in the 1920s, but is very timely, dealing with roles in marriage, women working outside the home, care of children, etc.  Its timeliness is probably the reason that a new edition of it is due to come out in July.  In any case, the copy I am reading includes, before the novel starts, an article that the author wrote.  She says that often she is asked for her opinion on various issues having to do with marriage: Should women marry young or old?  Should children be cared for by their parents or by competent professionals?  Should women work outside the home?  She says that her response is: What size is a house?  People are a bit bewildered, asking: Which house?  Canfeld says: Which couple?  Which marriage?  Which woman, and which children?

I do think there are some eternal principles, and with the Gospel we have strong opinions about women’s role as nurturer of children.  However, I think the specific context matters.  I might go a little crazy if I didn’t have an intellectual outlet besides the education of my children.  Also, because I married a little later (having already established a career) and then found I was infertile (never knowing, with adoption, till the relinquishment papers are signed and you are walking away with your child, whether you really need those diapers, crib, carseat, clothes, etc etc.), I haven’t been able to bank on children.  I’ve made decisions to find happiness as a working woman, too.  These contextual factors need to be considered when one evaluates the choices my husband and I have made (that I will continue to work or attend school part-time even while our children are young).

So let me now come back to evaluation.  If context is so important in our everyday lives, it makes sense that it would be equally important in evaluation.  If it weren’t for context, there might be, say, 30 possible evaluands.  Programs would just replicate the best model out there.  In fact, in such a case, once the initial kinks were worked out, there wouldn’t be the need to evaluate because the model would be perfected.  Context creates evaluation.  With each client, site and project being unique, having different contexts, evaluation becomes necessary.


Fitzpatrick, J., Sanders, J., & Worthen, B.  (2011). Program Evaluation: Alternative Approaches and Practical Guidelines.  4th edition.  New Jersey: Pearson Education.


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