What is 'EVALUATION'?

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A few points of departure for thinking about evaluation:

1. Evaluation wraps with value. If 'evaluation' refers to a process or mechanism of assessment, 'value' refers to what this process or mechanism aims to assess.

2. Evaluation is performative or reflexive: the processes or mechanisms used in this assessment are themselves value laden and hence will shape the value assessed--or not assessed.

3. Evaluation tends to be a resource intensive, requiring expertise, structures, labour, time and a budget.

4. Evaluation has an objective dimension, which is to say (1) the evaluative mechanism/process can be shared/communicated to other people; the (2) the value identified through the assessment can be shared/communicated to other people. One of the reasons for this concerns standardisation: disseminating evaluative outputs can make them more accountable to some overarching programme. (See below with reference to evaluation being rational/dispassionate)

5. Evaluation tends to be purpose driven. This is to say evaluation isn't conducted as an end in itself but rather in the service of something else: profitability, environmental feasibility, etc.

6. Evaluation is interdisciplinary. So unlike law, evaluation isn't a body of knowledge that has been elaborated and practiced for years. As an elastic framework, it draws on management and organisational theory as well as more local considerations, such as aesthetic theory in the case of artistic practice.

7. There is terrific confusion and/or 'push back' about evaluation when it comes to cultural production (including the arts). This can be partly explained by the widespread sense that evaluation in this context tends to instrumentalise cultural production to untilitarian ends. It may, for instance, focuse on its immediate and measurable impact in the service of non-art related activities (i.e. gentrification, marketing, social cohesion). Part of the problem resides with how cultural is defined for the sake of evaluation. But could there not also be confusion about the ways in which evaluation is defined and applied here? Confusion among not only those whose work is being evaluated but the evaluators too?

8. There are of course many foci and kinds of evaluation. For instance, we can distinguish between internal evaluation (such as self-evaluation) and external evaluation (such as evaluation by an auditor). It is difficult to imagine a total system of evaluation that seamlessly integrates the evaluations of all those involved.

9. Evaluation can be complex and overwhelming (leading to abstraction), highlight the value of making it situated and specific. It is difficult to imagine what specialising in this area would entail. (Have you ever heard of a professional evaluator?) Surely it's about evaluating something (area [the arts, for instance]); evaluating somehow (method) and by/for someone (subjects).

10. Evaluation is generally thought to be a rational and dispassionate activity. But things in practice may be more complex. See Law and Callon's work on Qualcuation (a combination of 'calculation' and...

11. Evaluation involves the assessment of heterogeneous materials (this goes back to our work on ANT - Actor Network Theory). To what extent do these reside in human subjects and/or in material arrangements, systems of measure, methods of inclusion/exclusion, etc? What heterogeneous materials are we concerned with and why and who do we assess them?

12. Evaluation typically involves multiple stakeholders. These include the evaluator and evaluatee.




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Return to Main Page * Post-doc * Evaluation Lexicon see also:


Some questions to ask about 'evaluation':

  • What's the evaluation being used for?
  • What kind of impact will the evaluation have on the evaluatee/evaluand and perhaps even the evaluator?
  • What biases are we dealing with in our exploration of evaluation?
  • What's the relationship between 'evaluation,' 'valuation' (i.e. an estimation of the worth of something, especially one carried out by a professional valuer. "It is wise to obtain an independent valuation.") and 'valorisation.' Here's what wikipedia has to say:

The valorisation or valorization of capital is a theoretical concept created by Karl Marx in his critique of political economy. The German original term is "Verwertung" (specifically Kapitalverwertung) but this is difficult to translate, and often wrongly rendered as "realisation of capital", "creation of surplus-value" or "self-expansion of capital" or "increase in value".[1]

In German, the general meaning of "Verwertung" is the productive use of a resource, and more specifically the use or application of something (an object, process or activity) so that it makes money, or generates value, with the connotation that the thing validates itself and proves its worth when it results in earnings, a yield. Thus, something is "valorised" if it has yielded its value (which could be use-value or exchange-value). Similarly, Marx's specific concept refers both to the process whereby a capital value is conferred or bestowed on something, and to the increase in the value of a capital asset, within the sphere of production.

In modern translations of Marx's economic writings, such as the Penguin edition of Capital and the English Marx-Engels Collected Works, the term valorisation (as in French) is preferred because it is recognized that it denotes a highly specific economic concept, i.e., a term with a technical meaning.

Note: "Valorisation" is nowadays also a term used in the vocational training community, in academia and in project management. In this sense, it refers to getting the maximum value and usefulness out of education programmes and managed projects, by generalizing what has been learnt from the specialist experiences to other, related fields. In this modern sense of the word, the European Commission defines the term as "a process of exploiting project learning and outcomes (training products and processes, methodology, course materials etc.) with a view to optimising their value and impact in existing and new contexts (target groups, companies, sectors, training institutions and systems etc.).[2] This meaning is unrelated to Marx's concept, other than the reference to making the best use of an activity or getting the best value out of it for all concerned. The modern meaning relates not to capital, but to spreading the benefits of upskilling.

[1] Christopher J. Arthur, A guide to Marx's Grundrisse in English, p. 2, no date (CJA online website, circa 2009) [2] This link is broken...