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Book Review: Actionable Evaluation Basics by E. Jane Davidson

I am pleased to share my reflections on a new-ish text by E. Jane Davidson, PhD, titled Actionable Evaluation Basics: Getting succinct answers to the most important questions.* I was excited to see that Dr. Davidson had turned her workshops into this mini e-book, downloaded the 2nd version (updated Sept 25, 2012) months ago, and finally found time to read it this fall. While it’s already no longer brand new, it feels exceptionally fresh, and I applaud Dr. Davidson for making a go of publishing in the electronic frontier.

Evaluation novices as well as experts could learn from Actionable Evaluation Basics, though some background in evaluation wouldn’t hurt.  Dr. Davidson is following in the footsteps of Patton’s Utilization-Focused Evaluation here, but focuses on the power that framing and working to answer the right questions can have in empowering evaluation use. She cautions against “leaping to measurement” and makes a strong case for thorough and planning focused “on the broad decisions or actions [needed], and how evaluation needs to inform them.”

As I’ve been thinking a lot about engaging stakeholders (including program staff and beneficiaries) in the evaluation process, I found this nugget about how that engagement alone does not guarantee valid evaluation results to be particularly relevant:

Truly worthwhile engagement in evaluation expertly guides people through a well-designed process, supported by tools and frameworks, that allows them to ask the right questions, answer them validly, present the findings credibly and compellingly, and formulate well-grounded action plans.

But Dr. Davidson’s break-down of what makes a good evaluative question, and subsequently evaluative reasoning, are the biggest gems here. This is in good part because she shares her evaluation question “cheat sheet” of core questions that could be applied to or tweaked to fit any evaluation! But also because she explains what could be esoteric or academically treated concepts in an accessible manner that also leaves room for the experienced evaluator to reflect on her own practice and immediately find ways to improve that practice.

Actionable Evaluation Basics is also a quick read that gets right to the purpose and delivers information in a straight-forward, practically-focused way. I believe it will be a lovely supplement to more expansive, technical, and theoretical readings for students in the graduate level program design and evaluation course I plan to teach next year. And I’m guessing that given it’s applied, practical nature, students will more readily engage with this text than some of the journal articles I’ve so far set aside. They’re also going to like the price point (currently $4.99).

*Ethical note: Though I have been communicating with Dr. Davidson about using her text for a course I am planning, I have not received nor expect to receive any compensation or other incentive for writing this review.

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  1. Sheila B Robinson, Ed. D

    Great review Kim! I’m a big fan of Jane Davidson’s work. I took a workshop with her last summer at AEA’s Summer Evaluation Institute and downloaded the book after that. After reading it myself, I decided to make it required reading for my Program Evaluation grad students, and you’re right – at the $4.99 price point, there was no question that this could be an excellent supplemental text and a great complement to the more theoretical work they must read. My students loved it and appreciated her straightforward approach to evaluation.

  2. Jane Davidson

    Gracias, Pablo, for your amazing translation job on this!
    And merci to Ghislain Arbour, who has translated it into French (coming in January 2014!).

    The **PRINT** version of this minibook (in English) is now available too, folks!

    Kim, many thanks for reviewing! 🙂

    And, incidentally, in case anyone is using this (or Evaluation Methodology Basics) as a course text, I am happy to Skype in and answer your students’ questions. Had a lot of fun doing this with Sheila’s class.

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