Week 12: All use is not created equal

In the post from Week 2 (What are evaluation use, usefulness, utility, and utilization?), we explained that we’ll typically consider USE to refer to the direct and immediate application of evaluation findings for program improvement or decision-making. That’s definitely the most satisfying type of use, when you (as the evaluator or the evaluation consumer) can see the immediate, practical application of the evaluation analyses or report that leads to dramatic program improvement or earth-shattering decisions. It doesn’t always happen like that, does it?

There are five primary types of use generally accepted in the evaluation literature (sorry, not doing a lit review here, but I’ll include two key references at the end if you want to read more): instrumental, conceptual, enlightenment, process, and persuasive.

As you can see, there are pros and cons for each type of evaluation use. Many evaluations integrate multiple forms of use at the same time or in different phases of the evaluation process. It is important to understand the intention of the use of the evaluation findings so you can work to avoid some of the pitfalls of each type of use. 

DR. TACKETT’S USEFUL TIP: I strongly believe process use should be incorporated into every single evaluation. While you may not be teaching the client how to fully conduct an evaluation without a trained evaluator, you are building their understanding of evaluation, changing the culture of the program or organization to better accept evaluation, and – ultimately – improving the ongoing use of evaluation findings.

DR. TACKETT’S USEFUL TIP: I strongly believe process use should be incorporated into every single evaluation. While you may not be teaching the client how to fully conduct an evaluation without a trained evaluator, you are building their understanding of evaluation, changing the culture of the program or organization to better accept evaluation, and – ultimately – improving the ongoing use of evaluation findings.

For more reading on types of use, check out:

Laura Leviton and Edward Hughes’ article called Research on the Utilization of Evaluations from 1981 at http://ced.zooid.org/mediawiki/images/2/26/Utilization_of_evaluations.pdf

Dreolin Fleischer and Christina Christie’s article called Evaluation Use: Results from a Survey of U.S. American Evaluation Association Members from 2009 at http://www.wmich.edu/evalphd/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Evaluation_Use_Results_from_a_Survey.pdf