The Birth and Adaptation of Evaluation Theories

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Marvin C. Alkin
Michael Q. Patton


Background: Evaluation theories as we know them are prescriptions by prominent evaluators about what they believe to be an appropriate way to conduct  evaluations. How do these prescriptions come about? In this paper we examine the various influences on the creation and subsequent modification of these prescribed evaluation theories. Inquiry into evaluation theories has a long history. What is new is inquiry into the evolution of theories.This makes theory formulation dynamic rather than static. Influences identified by Alkin in a National Society for the Study of Education yearbook (1989) serve as an initial guide to this inquiry. An examination of Michael Q. Patton's writings and shaping experiences provides further case study insights about the evolution of his utilization-focused evaluation theory and its offshoots.

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to gain further understanding about the way in which evaluation theories are developed, evolve, and take new directions, and the influences that shape the theorists' understandings and prescriptions.

Setting: Interview discussion with Michael Q. Patton and synthesis of interview data.

Intervention: Not applicable.

Research design: Not applicable.

Data collection & analysis: Not applicable.

Findings: Factors that have influenced Michael Q. Patton’s initial  theory development as well as subsequent modifications, adaptations, and offshoots offer insights into the connection between personal history and professional perspective. Specifically, these factors were: early personal experiences, professional training, interaction with professional colleagues, field evaluation experiences, interaction with non-evaluation academic colleagues and research conducted by Patton.

Keywords: evaluation theory; theory; utilization-focused evaluation; developmental evaluation; principles-focused evaluation.


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How to Cite
Alkin, M. C., & Patton, M. Q. (2020). The Birth and Adaptation of Evaluation Theories. Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation, 16(35), 1–13.