Integrative evaluation and participatory evaluation

by Osvaldo Néstor Feinstein

“Integrative Evaluation” (IE) is an approach that mitigates polarising discourse by integrating various seemingly contradictory perspectives and/or hypotheses. Participatory evaluation (PE) allows for the incorporation of the population’s perspectives on the processes and results of policies, programmes and/or projects, limiting or avoiding technocratic bias.

Evaluations are affected by perspective both in terms of the questions posed and the answers obtained. As populations are heterogeneous, it is very likely that they will contain a range of perspectives, which may also differ from those of experts. How should this type of situation be handled?

One option is to identify a single perspective as the only valid one, while another is to adopt a relativistic approach and consider all perspectives to be valid. A third possibility is to explore the compatibility of the various perspectives or subsets they may contain. This is what integrative evaluation does. While participatory evaluation generates perspectives or brings existing ones to the surface, integrative evaluation explores the possibility of combining or integrating some of them.

In practice, situations occur in which one perspective might emphasize the positive aspects of an intervention and barely mention the negative, while another might focus on aspects its counterpart ignores. The integrative challenge is to combine these opposing perspectives. This can be done when the explanations are compatible and complementary.

Adopting a dynamic perspective that considers both short and long-term effects means that short-term results might be negative and long-term ones positive. In such cases, integrative evaluation coincides with dynamic evaluation, which integrates intertemporal effects.

The tale of the people who describe an elephant on the basis of only one of its parts is a useful way to illustrate the possibilities and limitations of IE: legs, a trunk, ears, etc. can be pieced together to make up an elephant, but if another perspective insists that elephants also have fins or spines, then it is false and cannot, and should not, be included with the other perspectives.

In summary, participatory evaluation can be enriched by integrative evaluation: PE generates perspectives, IE combines compatible perspectives.

Some questions for participatory reflection                            

What is the relationship between PE and IE?

Are all perspectives valid?

When can different perspectives be integrated?

As a further reading, I suggest to see “Dynamic evaluation for transformational change”, Chapter 2 of the IDEAS book: “Evaluation for transformational change”, and the work “Integrative Evaluation”, forthcoming in the American Journal of Evaluation.

This contribution was presented at the session organized by EvalParticipativa for the Participatory Action Research and Evaluation Conference (PAREC) in April 2022.


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