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Theories in technology evaluation
Theories in technology evaluation

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3.2 Professional politics

Section 1 provided a detailed account of some of the paradigms and theories that are important for evaluation, and the tensions between them. One of the most prominent was whether evaluation should be theory- or methods-based, or some combination of the two. Choices about these and many more of the approaches and perspectives that underpin evaluation are often informed or driven by the presence of professional politics. That is, the values and norms of a particular profession and/or professional body influence or take precedence in particular contexts.

In technology evaluation this may well vary, depending on the type of technology as well as the scale and scope of the development. At the level of the evaluation of a military aircraft, for example, this might well include electrical and mechanical engineers, aerodynamicists, software engineers and analysts, and various nominated experts from the customer organisation, to name but a few. Many of these groups will have professional bodies or associations that are governed or guided by various practices and conventions (and underscored by particular paradigms and beliefs) to which members subscribe. In short, different professional groups may formally or informally, and explicitly or implicitly, influence evaluation. On occasion this may run counter to the balance and objectivity of the evaluation and/or be at the expense of other groups or their members. Consequently, professional politics is an important factor to consider in an evaluation, particularly in situations where a team of evaluators is required and the team consists of members from a variety of professional backgrounds.

Another possible scenario is that evaluators find themselves presenting the results of an evaluation to an audience that it is unfamiliar with or, worse still, does not subscribe to the same professional ethos and perspectives. I well remember presenting the results of a study of the impact of heavy lorries on a small English town to engineers and planners who were entirely unsympathetic to my ‘community-based’ model of impact analysis!

It is also important to recognise that the existence of professional bodies and associations can lead to professional politics surfacing at the national and international levels as one body seeks to protect or advance its interests and those of its members over others. Bamberger et al. cite the example of the failure of attempts in the United States to ensure the competence of evaluators through a system of accreditation or licensing. You may well be familiar with examples of similar tensions from your own field or profession.