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Theories in technology evaluation
Theories in technology evaluation

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5 Conclusion

My aim for this cousre was to present and discuss a range of contextual, conceptual, theoretical and methodological features of evaluation that I argue are relevant regardless of whether the focus of the evaluation or assessment is:

  • a specific technology
  • the process of designing and building a technology
  • a technology-based project or programme.

In other words they are overarching concerns within the broad subject of evaluation. Figure 3 provides a graphical representation of the key features of this ‘system’.

Figure 3 A systems map of the temporal context of evaluation
Figure 3 A systems map of the temporal context of evaluation

In undertaking this task we have covered a wide range of material, but it is important to recognise that in some cases the analysis was necessarily brief, and that depending on your specific interests there will be subjects that have not been addressed. For this reason I would urge you to follow up on the literature I have referenced where you feel this is appropriate.

A consistent theme throughout this unit has been that our values and beliefs, and supporting theories and paradigms, as individuals, professionals and members of society, are a fundamental feature both of how we understand and how we do evaluation. One of the themes of the unit has therefore been the importance of ‘surfacing’ this personal dimension of evaluation so that, as individuals, we are fully aware of how our thoughts and actions impact on, and interact with, the design, application and outcome of evaluation. This process can perhaps best be described as formalising the informal – harnessing and structuring the implicit or unconscious to better guide and inform our work as evaluators.

As with many features of evaluation people will contest this view, of course. Indeed, a good deal of the discussion throughout this unit demonstrates the contestability of a broad range of topics within the field of evaluation. Consequently it is for you to decide how useful you find this ‘open and transparent’ approach to evaluation. However, two of the central arguments of both this unit and the course as a whole are incontestable in my view. They have both been set out previously, but deserve restating.

The first is that technology is now so embedded in almost everything we do, and the claims and expectations of the economic and social benefits that technologies can deliver so ubiquitous, that understanding and employing technology assessment and evaluation ought to be integral to any technological development or purchase, regardless of scale or scope. It is only by taking this approach that we can understand the benefits and costs and make informed decisions about future investments – be they personal, organisational or societal.

The second is recognition of the temporal context of technology evaluation. That is, that time and place are fundamental factors – or variables – in the design, application and outcome of evaluation. Both are dynamic – they are ever changing, not stable or static – something that is far more significant in technology evaluation than many other forms of evaluation because of the speed (and speed of potential outcome) of many forms of technological development. Consequently, the assessment and evaluation of technologies becomes an extremely challenging activity (as some of the activities in this unit demonstrated). It is, nevertheless a challenge that needs to be addressed.