1.1.1 Universalist or contingency?
Another example of the role theories and paradigms play in ‘doing’ evaluation – and one that is particularly important because of its implications for how we design and conduct evaluation – is the distinction between universalist and contingency views of the methods and approaches used to conduct evaluation and assessment.
The universalist position is that certain approaches and methods are superior to others no matter what the context. The most common manifestation of this argument is that quantitative methods are superior to qualitative methods (a topic I return to below). Of course, there are others who argue the reverse.
By contrast, the contingency view argues that there is no single best way to undertake evaluation. The choice of approaches and methods is contingent on the context, i.e. they are situational. A key task of evaluators is therefore to identify which methods and approaches are the best for a particular type of evaluation and context, and then ensure that these are applied. The contingency view is therefore based on an alternative paradigm from which to theorise, develop and utilise evaluation, with a consequent affect on the approaches and methods used.