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Interactive evaluation : a user-oriented process to assist housing programme reformulation McAfee, Rosemary Ann Pickard

Abstract

This dissertation evolved from the identification of three trends. The first is that governments are exhibiting an increasing concern for the social welfare of their constituents. This concern is reflected in the expanded number of, and resources committed to, social action programmes. The second is that citizens are becoming increasingly desirous of participation in the formulation of social policies designed to provide for their welfare. And, finally, as societal goals change policies must be altered to reflect emerging directions. Evaluation of existing social action programmes potentially provides decision makers with an indication of the extent to which government actions assist individuals to share the quality of life enjoyed by society-at-large. Unfortunately, an assessment of evaluation attempts indicates findings have seldom made a significant contribution to policy reformulation. The question arises as to whether evaluation of government programmes is, in itself, unattainable or whether existing evaluation processes merely apply inappropriate methodologies to social action programme situations. Consideration of traditional evaluation methods in light of evolving planning thought suggests the latter condition may well apply. Programme evaluation must possess the capacity to assist in the conceptualization of sensitive issues to be evaluated, provide a framework for executing the study in the context of an evolving programme, and make provision for the dissemination and use of findings in a manner amenable to policy implementation . In addition, decision making through the political process involves bargaining between diverse interests. To undertake this task requires an appreciation of the range of alternate options for those affected whether it is the public-at-large or a specific client group. Realistic tradeoffs can only be made in light of a knowledge of personal and societal impacts. Traditional programme evaluation models assume static programmes for which initial goals are available, clear and remain valid over time. Traditional models seldom directly assess user attitudes to programme dimensions and make no provision for citizen participation in the evaluation process. Such patterns appear inconsistent with emerging planning theory. Planners and politicians are calling for new processes to provide policies which are responsive to varied user needs and anticipate social costs. An analysis of existing evaluation procedures suggests traditional methods fail to fulfill these criteria. The search for a more responsive evaluation process led the researcher to speculate on the implications of including members of the concerned recipient population in the evaluation process. It was hypothesized that if recipients of government programmes were directly involved in the evaluation process their analysis of programme guidelines would assist sensitive redirection of government actions. The resultant user-oriented evaluation process differs from traditional methods by involving programme recipients at all stages in the evaluation process. Programme users identify desired goals and assist in determining the extent to which programme output meets user expectations. Included in the alternate evaluation are procedures to locate sensitive programme impact points, to handle the eventuality of changing user concerns, and to identify appropriate levels of causation. Recommendations for government agencies to incorporate user input in future programme evaluations rest on a comparative test of traditional and user oriented evaluations undertaken on a social housing programme in the Greater Vancouver area. The test situation was selected to represent a typical planning problem requiring interagency cooperation on a multidimensional social issue. Comparative analysis of the two evaluation-processes indicates that programme recipients can provide a distinctive input into the evaluation stage of the planning process. Previously held perceptions of programme recipients as resentful toward privacy invasion and lacking the knowledge base to assist programme evaluation proved invalid. Given a sincere desire by the sponsoring agency to include user perspectives, the recipient is both willing and able to provide an evaluation of the effects of programme participation. This is not to say that following evaluation of a programme from the recipient's perspective the programme must necessarily be rewritten to his specifications. User specifications may involve tradeoffs society-at-large is unwilling to accept. Ultimately decisions rest on elected representatives. The argument emerging from this research is that through inclusion of users in the evaluation process the decision maker will at least be aware of client reaction before reaching his decision. User participation is part of a process; it is not intended as the product. Findings suggest it is neither practical nor desirable for programme recipients to replace agency personnel throughout the evaluation process. A more realistic procedure emerges through an interactive evaluation process which combines input from programme administrators, political decision-makers, and the knowledge sector with that from programme recipients. An identification of the role and responsibilities of each actor in the evaluation process emerges from the case study. Acceptance of study recommendations by administrators, decision-makers and recipients points toward interactive evaluation as a potential source of information for public policy generation and programme reformulation.

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