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

The third of this series of blog accounts for the constructvist and transformative paragidms in evaluation.

The constructivist paradigm is often referred to the “values paradigm”. Axiologically the constructivist paradigm acknowledges the researchers/ evaluators are not only conscious of their value systems influence their realities, but also aware of those of the others. They distinguish the processes through which those values influence people’s interactions and experiences and are able to help others recognize their own realities.

Ontologically, it admits that there is no single reality. The latter is viewed as being socially constructed based on people’s knowledge that is influenced by the values, interactions, experiences and context. This ontological assumption reflects in the epistemological one. The reality construct necessitates initiating a dynamic dialogue and engagement between the researcher/ evaluator and the evaluation stakeholders in which the former facilitates the process of helping the latter in recognizing their realities and create knowledge. The shift in understanding reality and approaching truth has had a transformative implication on the way evaluation is pursued. Methodologically, the shift requires a mixed approach with a focus on participatory qualitative ones. Key among the constructivist approach are the goal-free evaluation, case study research, and responsive evaluation.

Similar to the constructivist paradigm, the transformative paradigm conceives multiple realities shaped by the various socio-economic, cultural, political contexts and the values associated with them, acknowledging that values and beliefs differ from context to the other. It lies on the premise that reality is constructed within contexts and are strongly associated with values of respects, reciprocity, cultural sensitivity and responsiveness that govern human interactions. This branch of research and evaluation was developed to capture primarily the reality as lived by the marginalized and privileged groups. It is anchored in the philosophical strands that addressed social justice, equality and power structures.

Axiologically, research under a transformative paradigm extends the constructivist ethics and values to the fullest. Evaluation becomes a politically-charged one, through which the evaluator/ researcher facilitates the process for the evaluator stakeholders to recognize their realities and build knowledge. It is exhibits the core research ethics and amplifies the respect to the culture diversity and specificity, human rights and social justice. Ontologically, realities are multi-dimensional with many perspectives influenced by the complex socio-cultural, economic and political contexts. Its epistemology is premised on the fact that knowledge is indigenously constructed and facilitated by a trust relationship between the evaluator and the stakeholders. Knowledge is then of no value unless it empowers and transforms people, particularly the marginalized, during its construct. Methodologically, the transformative paradigm is mostly reflected through research designs may involve mostly qualitative approaches, namely participatory action research, indigenous and gender research that account heavily for the historical considerations.

Recognizing the various paradigms and schools is essential for evaluators to locate their approaches when conducting a policy/ program evaluation. Reflecting on those underlying axiological and ontological underpinnings helps evaluators overcome rushing into the “readily-available and consumable” methodologies often proposed. it definitely adds to the credibility of the evaluator and the quality and usefulness of the evaluation.

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