Problematizing Participation: A Critical Review of Approaches to Participation in Evaluation Theory

  • Gregory A
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It is widely accepted that evaluation is a social process which implies the need for a participatory approach. In this article, it will be argued that the blanket use of the term participation' has masked the heterogeneity evident in its realization in practice. This article highlights a lack of transparency in participatory methods in evaluation by, first of all, critically discussing Rebien's (1996) definition of a set of criteria for distinguishing participative projects from interventions that are non-participative or have a low level of participation. Rebien's work is important because it not only discusses participation from a practical perspective, but also from a methodological point of view, advancing the argument that Guba and Lincoln's (1989) Fourth Generation Evaluation is an appropriate methodology for supporting participation. Fourth Generation Evaluation will be described and critiqued with reference to Oakley's (1991) obstacles to participation. In the light of this critique, the argument will be advanced, through an examination of Patton's Utilization-Focused Evaluation (1986, 1997) and Pawson and Tilley's Realistic Evaluation (1997), that the notion of participation is ill-understood and is an important problem across a range of methodologies in evaluation. Guidance on how best to realize a participatory approach in practice will then be sought through examination of an approach to evaluation which has emerged from the systems field (Taket and White, 1995, 1996, 1997). Consequently, it will be argued that the problem of participation can only be approached through an understanding of power and its realization in practices that prohibit or promote participation

Author-supplied keywords

  • critique
  • decisionmaking
  • evaluation
  • participation
  • planning
  • stakeholder

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  • Amanda Gregory

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