The Situated Evaluation and Re-imagining Methods

Year: 2021

Author: Lumb, Matt, Gordon, Rhyall

Type of paper: Symposium

Evaluation in higher education arguably plays a key role in reproducing hegemonic value systems that hold in place deeply inequitable arrangements and structures. In response, CEEHE is exploring and reimagining how we might construct approaches that challenge and undermine these structures of inequity through the methods and methodologies we adopt in evaluation. However, in reimagining evaluative research practice for this purpose, we foreground that there is no purely equitable approach to evaluation that is free from producing inequitable arrangements and structures. We bring to projects both personal and professional subjectivities conditioned by the social forces into which we intend to intervene. The methods we deploy in an evaluation are imbued with these subjectivities. In this paper, we share from participatory projects operating across different contexts of higher education to problematise aspects of practice in which intersections of identity, culture and power in evaluative research create difficult moments, and possibilities, for methodology and method.Drawing on Lather (e.g., 2007), we consider how evaluation for equity might contribute to the effort to evade a ‘worldwide audit culture with its governmental demands for evidence-based practice and the consequent (re)privileging of scientistic methods’ (Lather, 2007, p.2). In this, Lather provides us with a more specific context of how evaluation might reproduce inequitable arrangements and structures. By taking this focus, we attempt to critique the confident claims to evidence sought within hegemonic audit cultures yet also not become paralysed between these desires and our awareness of the impurity of evaluation projects given the limits of representation within non-innocent spaces. The methods chosen, and the way they are guided to facilitate participation, become an on-going process of reimagination rather than an end point.Our work has also considered the role ‘new’ methods (e.g., of engagement, data gathering and/or analysis) can play in evaluative research. We have explored this given the reproduction of hegemonic value systems persists via a problematic politics of knowledge and/or evidence-hierarchy commonly present in evaluative research, particularly in relation to adjudicating the worth, value or impact of social programs intervening in the lives of marginalised individuals and groups. Via these efforts to develop un/certain methodological commitments and ethical dispositions - not as a guarantee of equitable outcomes but as a striving toward the possibility of a more diverse set of ontological formations - we have encountered and share in this paper our perspective on subtle practices we see as pivotal in this project.