AES keynote Prof Trisha Greenhalgh slams govt leaders’ notions of “scientific” evaluation

Traditional welcome from the Kaurna people of Adelaide

Ninna Marni – (“Hello, how are you?” in the local Kaurna language)

The Australasian Evaluation Society conference kicked off this morning with an engaging Welcome to Country from the indigenous custodians of the Adelaide region, the Kaurna people, whose traditional lands AES conference attendees are meeting on.

This warm and informative Kaurna welcome was followed by a brilliant keynote from Dr. Trisha Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Health Care and Director of Healthcare Innovation and Policy Unit in the Centre for Health Sciences at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Trisha talked about “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of evaluating e-health programmes in Britain. She had strong words about “gagging order” clauses in evaluation contracts, as well as government client uses of the “5 D’s” in response to evaluation findings they don’t care for:

  • deny
  • denigrate
  • dismiss
  • distract
  • distort

Drawing on Barry MacDonald’s framework from the 1970s, Trisha described how evaluations can be:

  • bureaucratic (evaluationĀ  = management consultancy)
  • autocratic (evaluation = scientific inquiry)
  • democratic (evaluation = informed citizenry)

Trisha then asked the question, What is “scientific” evaluation (in the sense that political and government leaders tend to use this word)?

The term “scientific” evaluation is used by government leaders to mean evaluation that takes for granted the questions defined by powerful stakeholders. Off limits for “scientific” evaluation are such radical actions as questioning who set the questions or why.

Within this framework, so-called “scientific” evaluation may be one step better than bureaucratic evaluation (which tends to rubber stamp whatever government does), but one step down from genuine democratic evaluation.

We are hoping to bring you the audio of this excellent keynote, which will be downloadable as a podcast – stay tuned to Genuine Evaluation for details!

3 comments to AES keynote Prof Trisha Greenhalgh slams govt leaders’ notions of “scientific” evaluation

  • Oh yes. Please post the podcast. It sounds like she was describing my experiences my evaluation career!

  • Live updates from AES ! Cross posted to a discussion on EVALTALK on misuse of evaluations.

  • Bill Fear

    It’s difficult to comment without hearing or seeing the text of the speech. However, this is not a new debate with regard to evaluation. Indeed, it is perennial and is part and parcel of the evaluation enterprise. There is a difficult line to tread here which requires those engaged in evaluation research to recognise the appropriate limits and purpose of the enterprise. As Cook and Shadish noted in 1986, ‘Evaluators must be careful lest knowledge construction and value analysis are drowned in the sea of accommodation to the complexity and intransigence of social programs and to the ways in which program officials do and do not use evaluation findings.’
    While it is pertinent to ask difficult questions, it is not automatically the case that difficult questions are either value free or that they somehow elevate the line of questioning to the ethical and social high ground. Of course, value claims that are neither understood
    nor believed are themselves without value, but a claim that a value claim is without value is itself a heavily value laden claim.