Putting (programme) theory into practice : the use of programme theory in programme evaluation practice in small third sector organisations. Current practice and future improvements

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

The theory-practice gaps in the field of evaluation demand evaluation. Research on evaluation aims to address these gaps. Specifically, this thesis focuses on the use of programme theory in the context of programme evaluation practice in small third sector organisations. In this context, social programming efforts and programme evaluation are critical to ensure the effective design, and implementation of programmes and services for the individuals, groups, and communities that small third sector organisations work with. Despite the importance of social programming and programme evaluation in this setting, there are numerous contextual challenges facing programme evaluation practice.This thesis highlights that how we conceptualise evaluation practice has implications for how we might go about conducting research on evaluation practice: such implications relate to the focus of the research and the methodological framework used. I find that the literature on the use of programme theory in evaluation practice is not consistent with our understanding of programme evaluation practice in small third sector organisations.As such, I use the empirical component of this thesis to explore the use of programme theory in the context of programme evaluation practice in small third sector organisations from a ‘practitioner-oriented perspective’. I address two research questions about current practice in the use of programme theory in small third sector organisations, and about how the development of programme theory can improve future programme evaluation practice in this setting. I adopt a multi-methodological framework to address the research questions.In terms of current practice, I find that much of the understanding and use of programme theory in small third sector organisations can be considered as tacit in nature. I also find that, whilst there may be challenges in making knowledge which is tacit in nature, explicit, that programme theory is not used explicitly in formal, or systematic, programme evaluation activities. This is also partly due to other factors including, practical constraints, and the fact that the use of programme theory is not explicitly asked for by funders. In terms of improving future practice, I find that the development of programme theory has two primary roles in helping evaluators think more purposefully and constructively about programme implementation and outcome evaluation: that is, in its role as a ‘tool for evaluative thinking’, through its confirmatory function and visual nature.Overall, this thesis contributes to our understanding of the use of programme theory in small third sector organisations in terms of the better conceptualising current practice, as well as understanding how the development of programme theory can improve future programme evaluation practices in this setting.These contributions have implications for programme evaluation theory and practice in small third sector organisations, and for research on evaluation more generally.
Date of Award18 May 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsEPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)
SupervisorAlec Morton (Supervisor) & Henry Burns (Supervisor)

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