3 Unpacking evaluation
As Clarke (1999, p. 1) notes, ‘The term ‘‘evaluation’’ is used in a myriad of contexts, settings and circumstances.’ Similarly, Weiss (1998, p. 3) suggests that it ‘is an elastic word that stretches to cover judgements of many kinds’. Of course, evaluation may be formal or informal in nature: we engage in various forms of informal evaluation on a regular basis when, for example, we make judgements about the relative merit, value or worth of a digital camera, a car, a mobile phone or any other entity or activity over another. Activity 1 should have highlighted this, as well as illustrating that more often than not informal evaluation is implicit. In other words, we don’t consciously think about what we are evaluating, why, against what, and the results. Nevertheless, the outcome will be that we decide on one course of action, or one entity, over another.
Formal evaluation is, by contrast, an explicit activity, because a defining feature of this approach is that it involves the systematic examination of an entity/entities or activity/activities. Thus, for example, Weiss (1998, p. 4) defines evaluation in the context of the policies and programmes that stem from government(s) as: ‘... the systematic assessment of the operation and/or outcomes of a program or policy, compared to a set of explicit or implicit standards ...’ (original emphasis). Clearly, formal evaluation can therefore take place in a wide variety of settings, contexts and circumstances, with a greater or lesser scale and scope depending on the resources available. However, as Weiss’ definition may be much broader than any type of evaluation that you are familiar with, now is an appropriate point to undertake a more thorough review of this subject than the outline set out in Box 2.