Evaluation as public work: an ethos for professional evaluation praxis

Reynolds, Martin and Schwandt, Thomas (2017). Evaluation as public work: an ethos for professional evaluation praxis. In: UK Evaluation Society Annual Conference: The Use and Usability of Evaluation: demonstrating and improving the usefulness of evaluation, 10-11 May 2017, London, UK Evaluation Society.


The usefulness of evaluation has in recent years been explored through a wider backdrop of conversations regarding the professionalization of evaluation practice. The discourse on professional evaluation has been largely circumscribed around two models of professionalism – social trusteeship and technocratic professionalism. Drawing on the works of Albert Dzur, Thomas Schwandt identifies a third model of democratic professionalism which promises a more purposeful discourse; a means of rendering the usefulness of evaluation as part of a civic professionalism in terms of what Henry Boyte calls ‘public work’. Whereas mainstream democratic professionalism emphasises the need for deliberation, the idea of public work emphasises the democratizing ideal of co-creativity with the active involvement of evaluators and citizens as co-agents of change. According to Schwandt, what is missing is an appropriate framework for justifying democratic professionalism as the ethos for professional evaluation practice; an ethos that relates to elements of ethics and legitimacy. Such a framework, Schwandt claims, might be appropriated from systems thinking and the tool of critical systems heuristics as used and developed in evaluation practice by Martin Reynolds. This paper explores the usefulness of evaluation through systems thinking in practice as a mediating device; a purposeful model that converses between the use of evaluation amongst citizens (including commissioners of evaluations) in an evaluand, and the usability of evaluation amongst evaluators and citizens as co-creating agents. The triangulation can be expressed through the praxis of evaluation; a praxis that at best might constitute a civic professionalism based on an ethos of evaluation as public work.

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