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Evaluation Research: An Introduction to Principles, Methods and Practice

Alan Clarke
Sage Publications: London
1999
0761950958 (pb); 076195094X (hb)
16.99 (pb); 49.50 (hb)
224

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Evaluation Research is an introduction to "some of the fundamental principles of evaluation". It is a very worthwhile textbook, clearly and simply written. The authors, in their introduction, espouse no particular line or commitment. Ch.1, "Understanding Evaluation" is an overview, presenting initial definitions, locating evaluation among other activities, and portraying the relation to other social science. What makes evaluation different is the intended objective - its action orientation, the determination of "the value or impact of a policy, programme, practice intervention or service, with a view to making recommendations for a change." Evaluation research otherwise draws on the methods and concerns of the social sciences. The chapter reviews some familiar major stances. Ch.2., "Quantity and Quality: Paradigmatic Choices in Evaluation Methodology", assembles the complex debates in the area under a mere two headings, with quantitative "positivist" and qualitative "interpretive" (or whatever synonyms are preferred). This is not allowed to get out of hand: for example, more space is devoted to experimental and quasi-experimental designs (and their critics) than is devoted to variations in the "qualitative" camp. Ch.3 looks generally, and basically, at methods of data collection. Chs 4 6 are each devoted to an extended account of evaluation in an area, respectively, Criminal Justice and Crime Prevention Programmes, Health Care, and Evaluating Schools. Each is a selective review, taking themes, most strikingly in the education case, which focusses swiftly on to OFSTED inspection. These chapters provide plenty of useful examples and good illustrations for those looking at evaluation for the first time. Like comparable American texts, however, the flavour given is of large-scale programme evaluation, with, at least initially, a relatively "managerial" view of what evaluation is about. The final, brief, chapter is on utilisation, and some of the factors that can make sponsors and stakeholders react well to particular evaluations.

The book's target audience seems to be third year "social research methods" students , perhaps on an "Applied" degree or for master's students contemplating their own evaluation projects. Anyone wanting a quick review of current examples of evaluation in the U.K. could consult it with profit. As a new U.K. textbook, using U.K. examples, in a field where U.S. texts dominate, it is to be welcomed. Its clarity and comprehensibility are also worthwhile features. However, it cannot, I think, be cited alone. It is limited on "critical" perspectives on and in evaluation. The divisions in Ch.2 certainly simplify the standard division of positive, interpretative, and critical but the index contains neither that term, nor, e.g. "feminist/feminism", nor "race". Critical remarks and observations intervene in the text, certainly, but radical doubts, of one kind or another, are not permitted a structural place. Ch.2 perhaps does not intend to perpetuate a useless quantitative-qualitative distinction, but identifying that distinction with simply conceived philosophies of science carries that danger. The overall effect of the book is rather normalising, turning a deeply disputable area (evaluation) into one of rather standard debate. This is surely intentional, and appropriate for the textbook that this is intended to be: and the gain from its simplifications is substantial. But a lively graduate might be puzzled and a little frustrated by some of the exclusions.

Dianne Phillips
Manchester Metropolitan University

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