1st Edition

Evaluation in the Face of Uncertainty
Anticipating Surprise and Responding to the Inevitable

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ISBN 9781606238578
Published October 6, 2010 by Guilford Press
303 Pages

USD $45.00

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Book Description

Unexpected events during an evaluation all too often send evaluators into crisis mode. This insightful book provides a systematic framework for diagnosing, anticipating, accommodating, and reining in costs of evaluation surprises. The result is evaluation that is better from a methodological point of view, and more responsive to stakeholders. Jonathan A. Morell identifies the types of surprises that arise at different stages of a program's life cycle and that may affect different aspects of the evaluation, from stakeholder relationships to data quality, methodology, funding, deadlines, information use, and program outcomes. His analysis draws on 18 concise cases from well-known researchers in a variety of evaluation settings. Morell offers guidelines for responding effectively to surprises and for determining the risks and benefits of potential solutions.

Table of Contents

1.  From Firefighting to Systematic Action
 Adding “Surprise” to the Mix
 Historical Roots: Evaluation, Planning, and System Behavior
 From Explaining Surprise to Dealing with It
 Development Path of This Book
 Guiding Principles
 How to Read This Book
 In Sum
2.  Structure of the Unexpected
 Where Does Surprise Come From?
 Beyond Simple Distinctions
 In Sum
3.  Placing Surprise in the Evaluation Landscape
 When Is the Probability of Surprise High?
 When Is Surprise Disruptive to Evaluation?
 In Sum
4.  Minimizing Foreseeable Surprise
 Theory: Using Explanatory Power and Simplified Relationships
 Exploiting Past Experience: Capitalizing on What We Already Know
 Limiting Time Frames to Minimize the Opportunity for Surprise
 In Sum
5.  Shifting from Advance Planning to Early Detection
 Leading Indicators
 System-Based Logic Modeling
 In Sum
6.  Agile Evaluation
 Agile Methodology
 Retooling Program Theory
 Agility and Stakeholder Needs
 In Sum
7.  How Much Is Too Much?: Appreciating Trade-Offs and Managing the Balance
 A Framework for Appreciating Design Trade-Offs
 Maximizing Choice, Minimizing Risk
 Evaluation Design
 In Sum
8.  Applying the Examples to Categories of Cases: The Life Cycle View
 “Unintended Consequences”: Unity across Programs and Their Evaluations
 Interpreting Cases through a Life Cycle Perspective
 In Sum
9.  Applying the Examples to Categories of Cases: The Social/Organizational View
 Navigating through the Cases
 Placement of Cases on the Social/Organizational Map
 Categorizations Derived from the Data
 In Sum
10.  Lessons from Individual Cases: Tactics for Anticipating Surprise
 In Sum
11.  Lessons from Individual Cases: Responding to Surprise
 The Middle
 Leading Indicators and Agile Evaluation
 In Sum
12.  Unanticipated Program Outcomes
 Case Descriptions
 Applying the Cases to Unintended Program Outcomes
 Comparing the Cases
 Predicting the Need for Agile Evaluation
 In Sum
13.  Concluding Thoughts
Case 1. Grasping at Straws and Discovering a Different Program Theory: An Exercise in Reengineering Analysis Logic in a Child Care Evaluation Setting, Dennis P. Affholter
Case 2. Shifting Sands in a Training Evaluation Context, James W. Altschuld and Phyllis M. Thomas
Case 3. Evaluating Programs Aimed at Promoting Child Well-Being: The Case of Local Social Welfare Agencies in Jerusalem, Anat Zeira
Case 4. Assessing the Impact of Providing Laptop Computers to Students, J. Dan Strahl, Deborah L. Lowther, and Steven M. Ross
Case 5. Quasi-Experimental Strategies When Randomization Fails: Propensity Score Matching and Sensitivity Analysis in Whole-School Reform, Gary L. Bowen, Roderick A. Rose, and Shenyang Guo
Case 6. Unexpected Changes in Program Delivery: The Perils of Overlooking Process Data When Evaluating HIV Prevention, Bryce D. Smith
Case 7. Evaluating Costs and Benefits of Consumer-Operated Services: Unexpected Resistance, Unanticipated Insights, and Déjà Vu All Over Again, Brian T. Yates
Case 8. Keep Up with the Program!: Adapting the Evaluation Focus to Align with a College Transition Program’s Changing Goals, Kristine L. Chadwick and Jennifer Conner Blatz
Case 9. Assumptions about School Staff’s Competencies and Likely Program Impacts, Laura Hassler Lang, Christine E. Johnson, and Shana Goldwyn
Case 10. Mixed Method Evaluation of a Support Project for Nonprofit Organizations, Riki Savaya and Mark Waysman
Case 11. Evaluating the Health Impacts of Central Heating, Jeremy Walker, Richard Mitchell, Stephen Platt, and Mark Petticrew
Case 12. Recruiting Target Audience: When All Else Fails, Use the Indirect Approach for Evaluating Substance Abuse Prevention, Molly Engle
Case 13. Unintended Consequences of Changing Funder Requirements Midproject on Outcome Evaluation Design and Results in HIV Outreach Services, Lena Lundgren, Therese Fitzgerald, and Deborah Chassler
Case 14. Generating and Using Evaluation Feedback for Providing Countywide Family Support Services, Deborah L. Wasserman
Case 15. Trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among Female Clients in Methadone Maintenance Treatment in Israel: From Simple Assessment to Complex Intervention
Miriam Schiff and Shabtay Levit
Case 16. From Unintended to Undesirable Effects of Health Intervention: The Case of User Fees Abolition in Niger, West Africa, Valéry Ridde and Aissa Diarra
Case 17. Unintended Consequences and Adapting Evaluation: Katrina Aid Today National Case Management Consortium, Amanda Janis and Kelly M. Stiefel
Case 18. Evaluation of the Integrated Services Pilot Program from Western Australia, Peter Hancock, Trudi Cooper, and Susanne Therese Bahn

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Jonathan A. Morell is Director of Evaluation at The Fulcrum Corporation and Editor of Evaluation and Program Planning. Formerly he was Senior Policy Analyst at the Vector Research Center, a division of Jacobs Engineering. He is active in the American Evaluation Association (AEA), where he has been instrumental in founding two topical interest groups: Systems, and Business and Industry. He is a recipient of the Marcus Ingle Distinguished Service Award and the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Evaluation Theory Award from the AEA. His professional life has integrated his role as an evaluation practitioner with his theoretical interests. As a practitioner, he evaluates organizational change, R&D, and safety programs. He is also deeply involved in organizational design. His theoretical interests include the nature and use of logic models, the role of Lean Six Sigma methodologies in evaluation, complex system behavior, and the nature of practical action. He maintains a blog on issues related to evaluation and evaluation surprises.



"This clearly written, well-organized book presents a lexicon of the surprises that occur in evaluation practice, both in the program--how it unfolds between planning and completion of the evaluation--and in the process of data collection and analysis. Morell outlines a structure for understanding what these surprises are, where they occur in the programming and evaluation process, why they are inevitable, and how they can (or sometimes cannot) be foreseen. The book provides practitioners with a systematic way of diagnosing and possibly even anticipating surprises, and explains how to accommodate them."--Deborah Wasserman, PhD, Principal Consultant, PERSolutions: Program Evaluation and Research, Columbus, Ohio

"If your world, including your evaluation work, is often complex, uncertain, and unpredictable, you have a fellow traveler and real-world guide in Morell. He applies more than three decades of experience to the challenges of distinguishing what can and cannot be foreseen, anticipating the unexpected, and dealing with the unforeseeable. This book draws on concrete cases, expert wisdom, practitioner experiences, scholarly knowledge, and organizational theory to explore evaluation approaches and methods that are agile, flexible, emergent, and responsive. Morell's voice is personable, his guidance realistic, and his insights important. You'll be surprised how much better you can get at anticipating and learning from surprises."--Michael Quinn Patton, PhD, Director, Utilization-Focused Evaluation, St. Paul, Minnesota 

"Morell offers descriptions and prescriptions to help evaluators develop agile methodologies. This book is a valuable addition to available instructional resources for both seasoned practitioners and students just entering the evaluation profession. Writing in an accessible, cogent style, Morell effectively demonstrates how to navigate the challenges of complex systems. The brief cases he presents to illustrate his points will be especially useful for stimulating discussion in graduate classes as well as professional development settings."--Kathryn E. Newcomer, PhD, Director, Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, and Co-Director, Midge Smith Center for Evaluation Effectiveness, The George Washington University

"The use of real-life examples with all their warts adds considerably to the usefulness of the book, especially because the examples come from around the world and reflect a wide variety of evaluation contexts."--David L. Streiner, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University

"Morell offers an original, plain-spoken, perspicacious, wise discourse on a relatively neglected yet highly significant aspect of evaluation. This is among the first and best full-on analyses of the primary sources of evaluation surprise. The book puts a strong intellectual foundation under proposed remedies. There are gems in almost every chapter, such as the discussion of agile evaluation."--Lois-ellin Datta, PhD, President, Datta Analysis, Waikoloa, Hawaii

"This book fills a vastly neglected void in the evaluation literature. Morell provides a theoretical framework for anticipating and minimizing the unexpected by means of agile, responsive evaluation methodologies. He illustrates a variety of pragmatic strategies for dealing with the inevitable (and sometimes unforeseeable) things that can go wrong when planning and executing evaluations. Ironically, the lessons exemplified in the book have great potential for propelling the field forward in both anticipated and unanticipated ways. This is an essential, invaluable resource for any serious student, practitioner, or scholar of evaluation."--Chris L. S. Coryn, PhD, Director, Interdisciplinary PhD in Evaluation, Western Michigan University

"Insightful and provocative. Though Morell writes from the stance of an evaluator, his descriptions of 'things that go awry' apply to a wide swath of research methodologies. The idea that all research projects encounter unanticipated or unintended outcomes is aptly illustrated through a variety of case studies--for example, No Child Left Behind evaluation studies, health impacts of central heating, and outcomes of abolishing user fees in health clinics in Niger. The cases provide ample evidence of why things went awry and how unanticipated or unintended outcomes may be predicted and controlled. This book would be ideal for graduate-level courses on research design or program evaluation, either as a textbook or a supplement."--James E. Gruber, PhD, Department of Behavioral Sciences, University of Michigan-Dearborn