4.2.1 Formative evaluation
The purpose of formative evaluation is to provide feedback to designers, managers, policy makers and stakeholders on whether any changes are needed in order to improve something, be it a product, service or policy.
Remenyi et al. (2000, p. 26) refer to this simply as ‘learning evaluation’. Or, as Weiss (1998, p. 9) puts it, the ‘systematic assessment of what is happening ...’. The emphasis when designing and conducting formative evaluation is, therefore, on identifying the strengths and weaknesses of whatever is being evaluated.
Formative evaluation has long been a component of the type of social and educational programme evaluation I discussed earlier in the block. However, its use in a commercial setting, and particularly in the fields of IT/IS investment, is relatively recent (Remenyi et al., 2000). Consequently, if your background is in these areas, formative evaluation may be new to you. Nevertheless, and to summarise, in the context of technology the formative goals of evaluation could include:
- to inform decisions on strategic technology choices
- to inform technology design decisions
- to keep technology progress on track (intended strategy)
- as a management tool aiming to improve the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of an application of technology; the emphasis is usually on the measurement of performance.
Chen closes his discussion of formative evaluation with a warning that applies to formative evaluation undertaken in any context: ‘Formative evaluation is useful when accepted for what it is. It is a strictly developmentally orientated approach and its results should be used only for fine-tuning purposes’ (Chen, 2005, p. 143).
Activity 14 Which way for air transport?
Your first task is to locate the details for the Dreamliner and A380 on the websites of Boeing and Airbus – not a difficult task using Google. Familiarise yourself with the main specifications of the two planes, and the proposed variants of each (for example, Boeing plan to produce at least four variants of the Dreamliner) – e.g. capacity, range, engines, construction materials, computer and control systems, and so on. Compare the two.
Now undertake an evaluation of how the two companies arrived at such different design outcomes. You can use any source for putting your case together, as long as the material is publicly available and in English.