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Empowerment Evaluation: Focus on Client Control

As you know from our last post, we’re in the midst of a 3-part series on empowerment evaluation. In our prior installment we introduced the basics of empowerment evaluation providing you with some of the key concepts and a big picture overview.  For this post we’d like to focus a little more on one of the key components of the theory, which is client control over the evaluation. The role of the evaluator in an empowerment evaluation is to encourage clients to collaborate, communicate, and be involved in the process of program improvement. Evaluators are the facilitators or coaches to the program improvement process where the client is in control. This a key difference from other theories or approaches to evaluation where the evaluator is in control of the process.  

What? The client is in control, can that be right? — Yes!

However, evaluators would never just hand over the reins to clients without providing them with the necessary components for an effective and credible evaluation. The most traditional concept of evaluation typically means placing a value judgment of the merit and worth of a program, but in empowerment evaluation the context for the evaluation is different, as the clients are heavily involved. Rather than assessing the value or impact of a program, empowerment evaluation focuses on program improvement.

Where should one start with empowerment evaluation?

Because empowerment evaluation calls for huge investments of time and energy from the clients, it can be difficult to know how to begin. David Fetterman, the father of the empowerment evaluation, suggests several steps to ensure that clients are prepared for the extensive process of illumination and understanding that leads to the program improvement brought by empowerment evaluation.  The four steps for clients that can help facilitate the learning process are as follows:

  1. Taking Stock: With the help of the evaluator, begin to determine where the program currently stands. Discussions should include requisite program resources and the ultimate impact of the program.  
  2. Establish Goals: Discuss program improvement with the coach (evaluator) and community. Define exactly what needs to be better and where program staff and others in the community want the program to be in the future.
  3. Develop Strategies: Converse with staff members about the potential challenges that could arise during the evaluation process and establish clear strategies to ensure a successful evaluation is implemented and desired  outcomes are achieved.
  4. Select Evidence: Determine outcomes and indicators to reach the program improvement goals established in step 2. Ask yourself “How will I reach my goals and objectives? How will I measure success of accomplishing goals?”

Alright, we’ve highlighted some important aspects of empowerment evaluation and steps to begin the process but there is so much more information about empowerment evaluation out there.
Are you further intrigued about empowerment evaluation? Then be sure to look for our last blog post in this empowerment evaluation series coming soon, where we will discuss in which contexts and for whom empowerment evaluation is a good fit.

You can also find more information about empowerment evaluation by clicking on these links:
David Fetterman’s Empowerment Evaluation blog
Better Evaluation website with a plethora of resources on empowerment evaluation

Fetterman, D. M. (1996). Empowerment evaluation in theory. The Evaluation Exchange, 2(2), n.p.
Fetterman, D. M., Rodriquez-Campos, L., Wandersman, A., & Goldfarb O’Sullivan, R. (2014). Collaborative, participatory, and empowerment evaluation: Building a strong conceptual foundation for stakeholder involvement approaches to evaluation (a response to Cousins, Whitmore, and Shulha, 2013). American Journal of Evaluation, 35(1), 144-148. doi: 10.1177/1098214013509875.
Sherriff, B., & Porter, S. (n.d.). An introduction to empowerment evaluation: Teaching materials.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.“

– Peter Drucker

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