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2022 β€’ Linz

25th DeGEval Annual Conference

Power knowledge? Evaluation between evidence and (micro-)policy

25th Annual Conference 2022 of DeGEval - Gesellschaft fΓΌr Evaluation e. V.
from September 14 to 16, 2022 at the University of Education Upper Austria in Linz

According to classic models of evidence-based policy, the rationality of political discussions and decisions should be increased through independent evidence (cf. for example Ideally, such evidence is gathered by objective and neutral evaluators who professionally and competently compile the best available knowledge about the effects of political or other measures under the given conditions.

This is often easier said than done, as evaluators often experience contradictory requirements. On the one hand, these relate to scientific standards according to which the quality of the evidence of evaluation results is to be assessed and, on the other hand, to political objectives that are shaped by interests or values. The interweaving of scientifically based evidence production with political objectives, which is typical of evaluation, can have helpful or problematic effects: Political actors can strongly support the provision of evidence, for example by facilitating data collection in difficult fields. However, they can also restrict or hinder the empirical search for evidence, and this is certainly against the background of legitimate concerns and interests. Difficult and sometimes conflictual negotiation processes between evaluators and commissioning parties regarding the 'correct' interpretation of evaluation results and evaluation-related power knowledge are then inevitable.

In addition, political action is often based on causal narratives, which are often generally accepted and firmly anchored in the thinking of stakeholders, but are nevertheless little empirically tested and sometimes difficult to verify. If the data reveals weaknesses in such causal narratives, collaboration between those involved in the evaluation process can become difficult. Evidence that comes into conflict with the important interests and values of stakeholders can generate resentment or micropolitical defense strategies. Evaluators then find themselves in the difficult role of messengers of negative messages and, especially in the case of strong economic dependence on individual clients, in serious dilemmas.

Evaluation therefore always takes place in a context that is characterized by the exercise of "power" (understood as the "opportunity to assert one's own will (...) within a social relationship", as Max Weber put it): Evaluation results can be used by commissioning parties as a source of power, for example to legitimize their own actions; commissioning parties also have the power to influence readings of the evaluation results (also in the direction of selective perception or one-dimensional assessment). In contrast, the power of evaluators lies in producing evidence, i.e. scientifically tested knowledge, and introducing it into a political process.

Under the title "Power knowledge? Evaluation between evidence and (micro-)policy", we would like to shed light on the tension between value- and interest-based political objectives on the one hand and scientifically based evidence on the other at the 25th annual conference of DeGEval - Gesellschaft fΓΌr Evaluation e. V. In doing so, we would like to discuss the constraints and problems that arise from this as well as possible solution strategies.