Evaluation in action
Theory and practice for effective evaluation
By Gillian Squirrell

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Evaluation is a powerful tool that can create considerable fear. It may be used to decide how to allocate often scarce resources, it can be the forerunner of bad news, or just be a means to preserve the status quo. But evaluation is always about people, and can empower the disempowered, stimulate change, and support democratic innovation and creativity, and it is these elements that this book emphasises.

Exploring its emotional as well as social, political and technical aspects, this book shows how evaluation is always about people, and that what it becomes is a matter of choice.

Accessible for those early in their experience of evaluation, this book takes them and those with more experience to more advanced levels, by providing: theory, background information, history and reflections on the diversity of possible developments of evaluation. It offers readers opportunities to reflect on examples and on their own practice, and to make use of some guidelines and check-lists.

It offers the chance to consider and utilise:
  • a range of different approaches to framing and undertaking evaluations
  • ways to think about evaluation design and possible different types of tools to use
  • the learning that comes from evaluations - both at individual and organisational level, and to stimulate project and organisational changes.

  • It works through a range of important practical issues, including pitfalls, and covers all aspects of evaluations, from design through to working with the report, including:
  • the reasons for evaluation, from generating knowledge through to supporting innovative programmes, and approaches to evaluation, including Fourth Generation and democratic evaluation
  • frameworks for programme development and evaluative work, including logic models and theories of change
  • organisational learning, and the role that evaluations may play in both learning and change
  • the politics of evaluation and its uses, and ethical issues in undertaking evaluations
  • the process of contracting an evaluation, and the role of stakeholders
  • full acknowledgement of the very human dimensions of the evaluative relationship and explores the management of feelings in these relationships and the role of the evaluator.

  • It is for: evaluators, new and experienced; anyone commissioning evaluations; everyone involved in evaluations, as stakeholders, at any level; organisations wanting to develop an evaluation strategy; students, lecturers, researchers and libraries.

    Supporting resources - including checklists, assessment exercises, additional tools for participatory evaluation and discussion papers - are available on-line at www.e2rc.net

    Large format paperback. 152 pages. 9781905541768. Published 2012. £19.95.


    While written in such a way as to be accessible to those with less experience of engagement and participatory work, the book will take the reader to an advanced practical level, providing food for thought to anyone commissioning, orchestrating, instigating, involved in, evaluating, thinking about or researching engagement in:
  • all public services at central and local level, including: government and councils; health; education; social services; justice; etc.
  • all voluntary organisations, plus many not for profits and private organisations
  • universities; research councils; science; museums and the arts.
  • Also, students, lecturers and researchers in any of these areas; and libraries that serve them.


    About the author
    Defining the territory of evaluation
    Models, frameworks and emergence in evaluation
    Evaluation, learning, change and organizations
    Ethics in evaluation
    Politics in evaluation
    Getting down to business
    Designing an evaluation
    Methods for data collection management
    Participatory evaluation
    Working with the data
    Feelings in the field
    Concluding comments
    Suggestions for exploration


    Dr Gillian Squirrell
    describes her career as social sciences in action. With an academic background in social sciences and management she has worked for over 20 years in research, evaluation, training, organisational development and as a social entrepreneur. She has worked in and been contracted to universities, research and development institutes, the public sector and non-profits.

    She founded and was the CEO of a residential, learning and training project for offenders and substance misusers for 10 years.

    She has undertaken many national evaluations of social policy and programme interventions, run national consultations and researched and trained extensively in areas of programme development, evaluation, engagement and the interplay of research, policy and practice development.

    As an organisational consultant and manager she has been actively engaged in working with change in organisations and mediating the various challenges that changes to programme expectations and budgets can present. She works extensively with action research and action learning and systems theory.

    She is currently researching and developing a new vocationally geared social enterprise programme for excluded adults. More information about the author can be found at www.gilliansquirrell.net.

    There was high praise for Gillian Squirrell's earlier Russell House publications. The three bestselling training manuals - Becoming an Effective Trainer (1998), Developing Life Skills (1998), Developing Social Skills (1999) - were acclaimed in many published reviews, and remain both in print and in widespread use. Becoming an Effective Trainer was described as 'Particularly valuable... It is presented accessibly and balances theory and practice.' Community Care. 'An ongoing source of reference and help.' Youthwork. 'Promotes all the right messages.' www.trainingzone.co.uk.


    "Long before the idea of evidence-based practice came on the scene I had a manager who would often comment on how much of our practice was based on habit and tradition, with little by way of strong evidence to show that what we were doing was actually worth doing. Of course, there was the subjective sense that things 'had gone well' which was generally enough to keep us going along the same lines. But I did share, although to a lesser extent, his concern that we would be hard pushed to demonstrate objectively that the time, effort and money invested in our actions were wisely spent. My social sciences degree had taught me that there were significant dangers in just assuming that what we did by tradition was actually worth doing without actually testing it out.

    "Then along came evidence-based practice and some of its stronger proponents seemed to be suggesting that, if there is no firm, research-based evidence to support precisely what we are doing, then we should not be doing it. For me, that was going from one extreme to the other and didn't really fit with my experience of working with people, where - to use the social science jargon - there were too many variables to be able to isolate any sort of causal relationship. I also remembered that my social science degree had taught me that, when we are dealing with people, we should be looking for reasons not causes.

    "Thankfully, that hard line on evidence-based practice soon got modified to a more reasonable and, if you will pardon the pun, more measured approach which seemed to be proclaiming that we should base our practice on the best evidence available. Now that I could live with, although I would not accept some people's view that the only valid evidence was research-based evidence.

    "For me a key part of this development has been the recognition that we have traditionally neglected evaluation. We do what we do then we do it some more, without necessarily stopping to work out whether it has worked or not or what can be learned from the experience. I can honestly say that my professional training did not include any consideration of evaluation. So, it was with some enthusiasm that I took on the task of reviewing this book.

    "It is a clearly written work, well structured and clearly laid out, with occasional helpful diagrams. It serves its purpose well as a general introduction to the process of evaluation. I very much liked it. My only quibble was that it came across at times as a much bigger book that had been distilled into about 150 pages. That is, at times, topics are touched on but not really explored. I was left thinking: 'I think I understand that but I'm not really sure; I could do with more information to go on'.

    "The book is divided into eleven chapters and is broad ranging in its scope, incorporating consideration of ethics, politics and what I would call pragmatics – that is, discussion of what is actually involved in doing evaluation. In that way, it lives up to its subtitle of ‘Theory and Practice for Effective Evaluation’. What is particularly welcome is the emphasis on people. Evaluation is not a cold, clinical process of what is done to people; rather, it is a process that recognises (or at least should recognise) the complexities of human lives, not least the feelings dimension (something that a lot of people don't associate with what they see as a rational, scientific approach to practice issues).

    "This book will be of value to anyone involved in evaluating policy and practice and will also prove to be a useful student text that will offer a helpful starting point for understanding what evaluation is all about and why it is important. My manager, that I referred to earlier, has retired now, but he would have loved this book, as it addresses his concerns directly. But what is perhaps just as important, if not more so, is that in these times of cutbacks and economic stringency, it is unwise in the extreme not to be producing evidence that what we do is worth doing."
    Roy Wallace in Human Solutions Bulletin. Roy Wallace is a former local government officer.