A Brief Account of Four Evaluation Paradigms (Blog 2 of 3)

The post-positivist paradigm, similar to the positivist’s, is based on the ontological belief (or assumption) that all human behaviors and actions are governed by one reality that is independent of the context and individuals. It differs, however, in acknowledging that the reality is never understood except with some degree of probability. Epistemologically, post-positivism holds that our objectively true knowledge is only generated when it is done without biases (by the researcher/ evaluator) or external contextual influences. Under this paradigm, the evaluators should keep distance from the evaluands (subject of evaluation) in order to provide unbiased and objective views as much as possible. Recognizing that biases are unavoidable, evaluators should realize how and when their values and beliefs intervene and work consciously to minimize their interference. Axiologically, there is a deep recognition of the unavoidability of bias and consciousness to minimize and control them.

To that end, post-positivist research methodology is value-free and relies on unbiased and verifiable data. It appraises scientific experimental design (randomized, control, quantitative and correlational research) as well as theory-based (hypothesis testing) approaches as superior research and evaluation methodologies given their ability to limit biases in collection and analysis, as well as the interpretation of evaluation data. It is often criticized for providing a simplistic and one-dimensional view of the world.

The Pragmatic paradigm (referred to as the interpretivist) is based on the axiological assumptions that emphasizes the practical uses and effects of any conception of knowledge, ideas, beliefs and values (among others) rather than a mere reflection on them to increase our understanding of reality and truth (the positivist’s interest). It considers the real meaning of an idea or a concept in its practical consequences and effects. Indirectly, a pragmatist’s approach is influenced by his/her sets of values and interests. Ontologically, while acknowledging the reality (which is not of major interests to be understood for its own sake), the pragmatic approach focuses on the interplay between knowledge and actions (emphasising the latter) and recognizes the unique socio-cultural and political contexts of people that shape their experience, beliefs, knowledge and actions. It emphasises the utility of the knowledge, not knowledge per se.

Epistemologically, the pragmatist’s choice of approach is often related to the purpose, use and the nature of the research questions guiding the study/ evaluation. More specifically, it becomes a matter of appropriateness that guide the choice of the approach, influenced by the researcher/ evaluator’s judgement, expertise and value system, and guided by the desire to bring in a positive change (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2012). Methodologically, in contrast to the post-positivist paradigm, the choice between the quantitative, quantitative or the mixed methods in the research becomes a question of practicality and suitability to the research purpose, appropriateness for its use, context and stakeholders needs, rather than being based on any philosophical underpinning  (Patton, 2002). Key among the methodological approach under this paradigm are the use branch theories, the CIPP (context, input, process and product) approach, the utilization-focused evaluations, and empowerment evaluation…

Next, we will explore the constructivist and transformative paradigms…

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