There is no hierarchy: The politics of evidence in evaluation of social and educational programmes and policies

4 June 2015, 12.00 PM - 4 June 2015, 2.00 PM

Professor Helen Simons

4.10, 35 Berkeley Square, Bristol BS8 1JA

This event is part of the Festival of Education series from 3 - 15 June 2015. This event is supported by the Centre for Assessment and Evaluation Research (CAERe).

Evaluation of social and educational policies and programmes are currently increasingly dominated by models that claim to establish ‘what works’ in definitive ways, often via a singular model - that of randomised controlled trials (RCTs), which is frequently referred to as the ‘gold standard’. Privileging this model as ‘the’ gold standard often relegates other methodologies, more realist or qualitative in kind, to a secondary or exploratory role, if one at all. An opportunity to learn from different ways of knowing is thereby excluded.

This presentation and seminar challenges the notion that there is one ‘gold standard’, arguing that in the evaluation of social and educational programmes and policies there are many different forms of evidence to facilitate effective decision making, stemming from different disciplines and different methodological approaches. The key questions to ask are: evidence for what? What kind of evidence best helps us understand policies in action? Who is asking and who needs to be informed? In other words we have choices to make – ethical, political, and methodological – about what kind of knowledge we value in evaluating social programmes and policies. There is no hierarchy of evidence, no one ‘gold standard’, but many – related to the purpose of the particular evaluation and whose interests it serves.

This seminar – workshop aims to engage participants in a dialogue about the politics of evidence and will be greatly enhanced by examples from your practice. Please bring to the seminar examples of where politics has impinged in unhelpful ways on the form of evidence you value for the evaluation or research you are conducting or aspire to conduct. These will inform our discussion on the nature of evidence and how to choose which is most appropriate for the specific purpose of your evaluation or research in the specific socio-political context.

Biography: Helen Simons is Professor Emeritus of Education and Evaluation at the University of Southampton. She specializes in programme, policy and institutional evaluation, qualitative methodologies, democratic evaluation and ethics across all sectors of education and the practice professions. In 2001 she was elected as an academician of the Academy of Social Sciences, UK, in 2006 became a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) and, in 2009, was appointed an orator for the University of Southampton. 

For over thirty years she has specialised in programme, policy and institutional evaluation for government and non-government agencies. She has conducted numerous external evaluations and directed training programmes in case study research, programme evaluation and democratic evaluation in over 20 countries. She has also written widely about the theory and practice of case study research, qualitative methodology, and the ethics of evaluation and research. Her book, Case Study Research in Practice, published by Sage details how to justify and conduct case study research. Her latest paper to be published in the Journal Evaluation in May explores how to generalize from the single case.

Time: 12 - 2pm

Chaired by: Professor Sally Thomas

Eventbrite - There is no hierarchy: The politics of evidence in evaluation of social and educational programmes and policies

Contact information

ed-events@bristol.ac.uk or 0117 331 4291

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