Navigating the vast ocean of evaluation terminology

I recently had the opportunity to participate in an insightful webinar facilitated by Kylie Hutchinson at Community Solutions Planning & Evaluation. This webinar, entitled “You Say Impacts, I Say Outcomes” was all about clarifying the confusion in evaluation terminology. For anyone new to the evaluation field (and even to seasoned evaluation experts), the myriad of interchangeable terms can often lead to miscommunication or even frustration due to the inconsistency and lack of one official “evaluation dictionary”. While there is no immediate solution to solving evaluation term inconsistency, we can help ourselves and those we work with by broadening our understanding of the common themes that link these terms, which will allow us to more comfortably interpret and use this wide vocabulary to its greatest potential.

For me, one of Kylie’s lasting messages was the importance of understanding the foundation of evaluation theory to develop a stronger grasp on the assortment of terms that flood the evaluation field. She referred to Marvin Alkin and Christina Christie’s Evaluation Theory Tree, found in Alkin’s Evaluation Roots: Tracing Theorists’ Views and Influences (Alkin, 2004), as an illustration of this terminology foundation. By developing a solid understanding of the roots and trunk of this tree – comprised of social accountability, fiscal control, and social inquiry – it will be easier to recognize the underlying themes across different evaluation theories and approaches and make sense of the terms that have been adopted by various sectors, from education, to healthcare, to international development.  Take a look at Kylie Hutchinson’s post on AEA365 for more of her thoughts on evaluation theories.

In the webinar, Kylie also referred to a great visual that depicts how traditional planning and evaluation interact (access Kylie’s visual on the Community Solutions Planning & Evaluation site here – “How Planning & Evaluation Intersect”). This visual clarifies overlapping terminology in a simple, reader-friendly format by linking evaluation and program planning steps.

And it doesn’t stop there! An assortment of online evaluation glossaries from around the world can be accessed online. Many thanks to Kylie for highlighting the following resources:

Do you have a “go-to” evaluation terminology resource that you use in your daily work? Let us know, and we’ll share it here on dv-blog.org to keep the terminology conversation rolling!

Also…stay tuned for a follow-up post, where we’ll take a closer look at evaluation terminology specifically in a social enterprise context. What terms do social enterprise practitioners or evaluators tend to use? How do these terms differ from traditional evaluation vocabulary? How has Demonstrating Value used evaluation terminology?

Alkin, M. C. (2004). Evaluation Roots: Tracing Theorists’ Views and Influences (1st ed.). Sage Publications, Inc.
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