9 Evaluating theories and models
Theories seek to answer particular questions, and, in making theoretical claims, use particular concepts and evidence to make an explicit and logical argument. Ideally, a theory shows enough of its own working that others can follow its reasoning, be convinced by its usefulness and can deploy it in new contexts. So, although all theories are put forward at particular times and in particular places, their purpose is to have at least some degree of relevance in situations beyond the setting in which they were first crafted.
Models, on the other hand, tend to provide a framework for looking at specific issues. Models also use concepts to explain ideas but may not provide empirical evidence to support these claims. Models are underpinned by an overall world view.
Understanding how theories and models are constructed, through examining the key concepts and underlying views of the world that underpin them, can help us to deal with the variety of perspectives that exist. When trying to evaluate theories and models, we need to ask questions based around three areas:
- How coherent are the ideas presented? Are the concepts explained and is the way in which the different concepts relate to each other clear?
- How well do these ideas work in different nations, cultures and types of organisations (large, small, old and new)? Do they ‘travel’ well across space and time?
- How well evidenced is this theory or model? What types of evidence are used to support it?