Journal article

Evaluation: what’s the use?

Evaluation Policy Evidence-based policy

Concerns about non-use of evaluations have plagued the profession since it emerged in the 1960s to guide government decision-making about social policies and programs. While there is a substantial body of empirical and theoretical literature about evaluation use, this literature does not identify the factors that are considered most important to facilitating evaluation use or the pathways to evaluation use. Additionally, much of the literature is from North America and Europe and there has been no large-scale study of evaluation use in Australia. This study aimed to identify Australasian Evaluation Society (AES) members’ perceptions of the levels of use of evaluation and the factors associated with use, as well as how evaluators overcome barriers to use. It used a questionnaire of AES members and in-depth interviews with evaluators. The AES members who responded perceive both demand-side factors, particularly leadership commitment and individual receptiveness to evaluation, and supply-side factors, particularly involvement of stakeholders in identifying the evaluation purpose and effective communication of findings, as important to evaluation use. Evaluators employ a range of utilisation-focused strategies and have some success in negotiating the barriers they encounter to use. Evaluators’ experience reflects that the factors that are most important to use and the pathways to use differ by context, suggesting that existing theoretical models of evaluation use could be strengthened through recognition of context-based pathways.

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