Tuesday, January 06, 2015

President Stewart Donaldson on Empowerment Evaluation

American Evaluation Association, President

Foreword to 
Empowerment Evaluation:  Knowledge and Tools for Self-assessment, Evaluation Capacity Building, and Accountability (Fetterman, Kaftarian & Wandersman)


The field of evaluation has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two decades. For example, recent estimates suggest more than 34,000 professionals are now participating in evaluation societies and more than 80 universities provide evaluation degree and certificate programs worldwide (Donaldson, 2014). The quest for credible and actionable evidence to improve decision making, foster improvement, enhance self-determination, and promote social betterment is now a global phenomenon.

Without a doubt, this positive social epidemic spreading across the globe is largely due to the discovery and development of innovative evaluation approaches that better meet stakeholder, organization, community, and societal needs. In these past two decades, evaluation theorists and practitioners alike have responded to and overcome the challenges that limited the effectiveness and usefulness of traditional evaluation approaches primarily focused on seeking rigorous scientific knowledge about social programs and policies. No modern evaluation approach has received a more robust welcome from stakeholders across the globe than empowerment evaluation.

This book marks the 21st anniversary of empowerment evaluation, an approach that has literally altered the landscape of evaluation. David M. Fetterman introduced the approach as part of his presidential address to the American Evaluation Association in 1993. Since that time, it has gone viral and is practiced vigorously throughout the United States and in more than 16 countries.
Empowerment evaluation has been a leader in the development of stakeholder involvement approaches to evaluation, setting a high bar for quality and rigor. In addition, empowerment evaluation’s respect for community knowledge and commitment to the people’s right to build their own evaluation capacity has influenced the evaluation mainstream, particularly concerning evaluation capacity building. One of empowerment evaluation’s most significant contributions to the field has been to improving evaluation use and knowledge utilization.

This book represents the culmination of decades of dialogue. This collection of scholars and practitioners, led by David M. Fetterman, Abraham Wandersman, and Shakeh Kaftarian, have engaged in an honest and sincere dialogue with their colleagues, seeking critical feedback at every juncture. In addition to exchanges in the American Journal of Evaluation with numerous colleagues, I organized and moderated a pivotal debate about the value of empowerment evaluation between David M. Fetterman, Michael Quinn Patton, and Michael Scriven at the Claremont Colleges in August 2009. 
View Debate
While the exchanges were invigorating and overflowing with evaluation wisdom, the most remarkable memory was how David modeled empowerment evaluation’s characteristic orientation to openly and honestly engage in self-reflection and critique throughout the debate (see Donaldson, Patton, Fetterman, & Scriven, 2010). David and his colleagues have used this critical feedback to refine and improve their conceptual clarity and methodological specificity. This book, building on these exchanges, represents the cutting edge of insight and understanding into empowerment evaluation.

This collection presents the history of empowerment evaluation, from its turbulent first steps to its well-established and institutionalized stages, including the establishment of a special division within the professional association. It includes theory, principles, concepts, and steps of empowerment evaluation. The book highlights the breadth and depth of the approach, including the views of authors from foundations, as well as international case examples. The authors provide domestic examples ranging from corporate philanthropy to government-sponsored engagements.

True to the title of the book, this volume is not at a loss when it comes to tools. The authors provide clear case examples and instruments ready to be adapted and applied to a variety of settings. Finally, as a measure of the maturity of the approach, it includes research on its practice.

I have had the great pleasure of traveling down evaluation byways with David over the past decade. It is amazing to observe David facilitating empowerment principles in practice. I can attest this man practices what he preaches and serves as a wonderful spokesperson and role model for the evaluation profession. David and his colleagues have created a brilliant evaluation path that provides discipline to one of the most pervasive forms of evaluation going on today throughout governments, universities, for profit and not-for-profit organizations, and communities across the globe—that is, self-evaluation.

David has convinced me and others that, contrary to popular belief, self-evaluation is without a doubt the most common form of evaluation being practiced throughout the world today. However, most of this pervasive self-evaluation work is rather superficial, practiced by amateurs without professional evaluation training, and is not informed by professional evaluation standards, principles, and ethics. One of the greatest evaluation innovations of the past two decades has been the development of a professional and systematic approach to self-evaluation called empowerment evaluation. This book offers you the latest cutting-edge understanding of this powerful innovation and evaluation approach. May you be inspired and empowered as you adventure through the chapters in this outstanding volume! 

Stewart I. Donaldson 
President, American Evaluation Association
Dean & Professor, School of Social Science, Policy & Evaluation 
Dean & Professor, School of Community & Global Health 
Director, Claremont Evaluation Center 
Claremont Graduate University 
Claremont, CA 


Donaldson, S. I. (2014). Examining the backbone of contemporary evaluation practice. In S. I. Donaldson, C. A. Christie, & M. M. Mark (Eds.), Credible and actionable evidence: The foundation of rigorous and influential evaluations. Newbury Park: Sage. 

Credible and Actionable Evidence
Donaldson, S. I., Patton, M. Q., Fetterman, D., & Scriven, M. (2010). The 2009 Claremont Debate: The promise of utilization-focused and empowerment evaluation. Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation, 6(13), 15–57.

Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation