Reflection is an important part of the evaluation process. It allows the researcher to stand back and consider how the research is proceeding, and what personal as well as methodological issues need to be dealt with. Reflection is an aid to clear and critical thinking, and should improve the depth of the study which is produced. Reflection enables researchers to describe and analyse their feelings — and to take appropriate action as a result. All of this should contribute to maintaining, developing and focusing the study as it proceeds. A final reflective account may be valuable if the evaluation is part of an assessed program — and there may be scope for including some elements of this in the report to the organization.
Reflection is also required of the recipient and reader of the report. For dissemination purposes, if evaluation is concerned with research which can be implemented, then an understanding of how the evaluation process connects with the ‘reflective practitioner’ is going to be highly relevant. Usage does not automatically arise from reading a report, after all, but from reflecting upon the findings and their implications for organizational practice and resources before taking action. The reader will also have to deal with feelings as part of this process — a common response to negative findings is defensiveness. If a report is to be used, then it is helpful to consider how such a reaction might be avoided, or at least tempered.
Inevitably there is some overlap with the other chapters in the book as reflection is involved in all stages of evaluation — in formulating the project, in data collection and analysis, in resolving ethical dilemmas and in report writing. There is, however, value in discussing reflective issues together in one section — to deepen the understanding of what is involved and why reflection is such an important element of the model of evaluation being proposed in this book.
This chapter is really concerned with applying ideas about reflective practice to evaluation rather than with exploring the literature on reflection as an end in itself. Nevertheless, it is worth knowing that there is a substantial and well-developed body of work in this area which has come from diverse sources, such as psychology, education, sociology and philosophy. This literature has evolved mainly in response to issues of professional development and training, but it is now being extended to teaching and learning in higher education, to placements in the community and workplace, and to fieldwork research. An understanding of the debates and issues will clarify what reflection can (and cannot) contribute to producing effective evaluation.
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