Fourth Generation Evaluation

Egon G. Guba

Yvonna S. Lincoln

As Guba and Lincoln (henceforth G & L) characterize them, the first three generations of evaluation had to do respectively with measurement (e.g., IQ testing), description (e.g., formative evaluation of programs), and judgment (e.g., of merit). Fourth-generation evaluation, however, involves evaluations that are negotiated co-creations of social reality. The empowerment of the groups put at risk by being evaluated (whom G & L designate as "stakeholders") is crucial if these groups are to participate co-creatively in the evaluation and to "own" and implement its findings.

The basic, underlying method used for fourth-generation evaluation goes by a variety of names. British scholars call it "human inquiry" (inquiry conducted in humane ways, for humane ends); American scholars call it "action research" (research which aims to produce action on or through it findings), and third world or developmental evaluators call it "developmental evaluation" (evaluation which develops the understanding, and resources to respond, of those evaluated). A common generic term for it is "collaborative inquiry" (which simply describes what goes on when you use the method).

In collaborative inquiry, those being investigated or evaluated participate as informed collaborators (not as research "subjects"). The investigators, too, are under scrutiny. The goal is deepened understanding, for all concerned, of the issue--one about which all parties share a concern that becomes deeper as the evaluation progresses. Fourth-generation evaluators are relativists, and their methodology is, essentially, qualitative. But the evaluation is conducted in a most disciplined manner and produces an audit trail to ensure the credibility of its findings or recommendations.

The progression from earlier books by G & L, Effective Evaluation and Naturalistic Inquiry, is evident. But, in Fourth Generation Evaluation, G & L recant on their term "naturalistic," opting for a "constructivist" inquiry in its place. The realities initially discovered by constructivist inquiry are constructions of their reality which the evaluees themselves put forward. These develop into co-constructions, then reconstructions, as they are shaped by both evaluees and evaluators. Maintaining distance between evaluators and evaluees is impossible: everyone interacts, explains, argues, interprets. . . Investigation proceeds via a hermeneutic dialectic: the evaluators help the evaluees focus their constructions of reality and are responsive to evaluee concerns, criticisms and suggestions. The goal is mutual education, deepened awareness and heightened motivation to act upon the results of the evaluation.

G & L, regarding the paradigm which informs any research as focus-giving and norm-providing, are keenly aware of the assumptions undergirding positivist and post-positivist paradigms. As post-positivist value-pluralists, their focus is: "Whose are the values and methods which shape the evaluation?" Managerialist concerns and methods are not seen as either value-neutral or as givens. Neither is the choice of positivist methodology, when what's involved is human inquiry into such intersubjective "facts" as constructions of social reality.

Clearly, fourth-generation evaluation is based on assumptions about how research and/or evaluation should proceed that are, in many ways, antithetical to those of positivism. So G & L have to deal with the fact that positivist assumptions are embedded in the very language that we use to discuss evaluation methodology. We are socialized to think of validity, for instance, in positivist terms. So discussions of the "goodness" or "quality" of results, as criteria of their "trustworthiness," simply are not taken seriously. What makes the book heavy going is that G & L have to make a major detour to resocialize their readers: they have to show that positivist assumptions are inimical to understanding of post-positivism. G & L's discussion of the ethics and politics of positivist research goes about this resocialization with a vigour that not every reader will appreciate.

This done, G & L return to discussion of their methodology. Their master diagram on this method--the hermeneutic dialectic--occurs on page 152. Diagrams are rare in this book, a fact which causes this one to stand out in high relief. Close reading of the text, with constant reference to the diagram, should provide a good understanding of what's involved.

G & L then proceed to set out how a constructivist report of an evaluation differs from a positivist one; to provide guidelines for judging the quality of a fourth-generation evaluation; to show how the hermeneutic dialectic acts as its own quality control procedure; to detail the criteria which establish the authenticity of a fourth-generation evaluation; to show how different fourth generation evaluation is from its predecessors; and to describe the new roles that its evaluators have to play.

What cannot be gained from this book, good as it is, is a felt sense of the power, and of the costs, of this methodology. Such a sense comes only from experience.

As to its power, the first time that you conduct one of these unstructured, in-depth constructivist interviews with a collaborator, going by the rules so that it works, usually proves to be an unforgettably exhilarating experience. The involvement of your collaborators in the evaluation, and their commitment to it, have likewise to be experienced to be believed.

As to the costs of the methodology, experience is needed for appreciation of them, too. This is not a methodology for anyone who is set in his or her beliefs. You will grow in understanding, and this growth is often painful. After all, the reason we don't hear (in the sense, "take to heart") what people are trying to tell us is generally because it's painful for us to do so. As G & L say--but as you won't appreciate till you actually use the approach--this method requires a lot of work. Usually, you only finish your project, in the end, because it becomes a labour of love and/or concern for your collaborators--and because you just have to find out how it all comes out.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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