Case Studies of Evaluators’ Lives: A cultural perspective (yes, culture!)

From: Jane Davidson

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The panel line-up was not one you would even remotely expect to see sponsored by any of the TIGs with a focus on culture. They were five senior white male Americans including some of the pioneers of the profession’s early development in the United States: Michael Scriven, Bob Stake, Ernie House, Marv Alkin, and Michael Quinn Patton. Two other contributors weren’t able to attend in person: Eleanor Chelimsky and Dan Stufflebeam.

In fact, the panel wasn’t sponsored by any of the culture-themed TIGs, but actually, it could have been.


David Williams

The panel was the brainchild of David Williams, who is immersed in a study of evaluators’ lives and how their lives influence their evaluation perspectives, approaches, and practices. These were the very first wave of interviews in an ongoing study that is now branching out to explore the same questions with a more diverse and a more junior group of evaluators.

As I listened to the stories of where each of these evaluators had come from, I was struck by the cultural element in the discussion, although I strongly suspect that none of the panelists was even remotely aware of it.

Actually, it was historic, in a way.

Here I was, listening to five senior white male American evaluators telling us the story of who they were as individual and cultural beings – and how their cultural identities, their parents, their childhood experiences, and several defining moments in their lives – had shaped both their journey into evaluation and the perspectives they have taken in their evalution theories and practices.

Some of them had answered the question more as a work history (“how I got into evaluation and doing what I do”). But some took us on a journey into their childhoods, talked about those early experiences and the influence of their parents. For these, you could see where many of their values, their perspectives, and their approaches to evaluation had been rooted.

David Williams continues this work by interviewing other evaluators, and I was intrigued to be asked to participate myself. And actually, it flicked on a few lightbulbs for me too about the real roots of how I approach things. Perhaps I’ll share a bit about that one day too.

If we know a thing or two about where someone has come from – historically, culturally, and individually – it tells you a lot about where they are coming from in their work and the way they see the world generally. And when we reflect on where our own values and ways of looking at the world have come from, that’s part of learning who we are as cultural beings, not just as individuals.

And that is just what David Williams, a white American male himself, has managed to get seven of our pioneers to do. Impressive!

I look forward to a sequel session in 2014, and to the write-up of the findings.

Want to see more? Keep an eye on David Williams’ entries in the e-library, where he said he’d upload the presentation and copies of what Dan Stufflebeam and Eleanor Chelimsky contributed.

5 comments to Case Studies of Evaluators’ Lives: A cultural perspective (yes, culture!)

  • David Larwin

    Much the same is true in my home discipline of personality psychology. Knowledge of the life story of the personality theorist always provides considerable insight into how that story informs the nature of the personality theory that the theorist has created.

  • Salaam Jane,
    Don’t worry! This story isn’t about culture influences! This is about gifts and honoree to some peoples for their contributions.

  • MQP

    “What a long strange trip it’s been” from the Grateful (Not-yet) Dead

  • #omgMQP, where is the ‘Like’ button when I need one (on the comments)? :)

  • Sounds like it was a great panel – adding insight of the link between the personal and the professional. The typical separation of what we do (the profession or job) from who we are (our personal history, upbringing and experiences) is the norm – but fails to recognise family, religion, culture, values etc on the shaping of world views and what’s important to us as people – and reflected in our work. This personal values orientation is expected if you’re Indigenous or from a multi ethnic background, but ‘white folk’ don’t have ‘culture’ and their work is informed from a more cerebral, neutral, value free stance. Yeah right. So the work being led by David Williams is doubly important because it both captures and acknowledges the stories, journeys and contribution of the evaluation ‘elders’ (and others to come) as well purposefully or inadvertently the underlying values, motivations and drivers that inform evaluation theory and practice.