5x52 Program Evaluation

On Writing and Program Development

My first opportunity to seriously consider the intersections between evaluation and design was in a class on writing. The instructor, a poet herself, had us developing our craft as mature writers would. She introduced us to how writers think about writing and how writers approach the task of writing. The formulaic, straight-through write-once approach learned and honed in grade school made way for a more organic approach—a practice I continue to this day.

The approach goes something like this: Start with flow-writing, an interrupted 10-min session of brain dump, to pen thoughts onto paper. (This is the creative phase of the writing process.)  Then, return to the writing and edit ruthlessly. Focus on clarity and precision of language. Finally, copyedit the writing after all the heavy-lifting is done. (See Peter Elbow’s work, Writing without Teachers; video clip included below).

What struck me about this approach to writing was how it mirrors the developmental approach advocated in developmental evaluation. Both approaches focus on promoting purposeful and intentional changes made the object of development, be it a piece of writing or a program. However, the kind of change desired is not one of incremental changes, but more of changes in form and function. In program evaluation, we understand this to be changes to the program model.

Like writing, there has been a strong emphasis and reliance on utilizing a linear approach to developing programs (needs assessment –> program planning –> program implementation –> program evaluation).  It would seem, though, that this linear approach has limited utility and is only appropriate for few conditions meeting strict conditions.  More on this thought in the future.


By Chi Yan Lam

Dr. Chi Yan Lam is a Credentialed Evaluator and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of evaluation at the Faculty of Education and the Faculty of Health Sciences, Queen’s University; he is also a full-time evaluator practicing in public service. He specializes in evaluating large-scale, complex programs and incorporates multi-, mixed- and design methods in his evaluations to answer questions of importance to program administrators and policy makers working on educational and social programs. His articles on evaluation have been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the American Journal of Evaluation and the Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation. He has been a holder of the professional designation in evaluation since 2014.

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