Who gets to choose the boxes?

I have finally managed (probably after bugging a lot of people that did not need to be bothered) to enroll in my PhD course. I am trying to get my head around where to start reading. Maybe I am having so much trouble deciding because I need to employ the very strategy that I think I need to unpack- evaluation. I need to come up with criteria to guide my reading, but the more I think about renewal programs (and some completely unrelated brick walls I am coming up against in a project at work) the more I get angry at how constraining and manipulative criteria are.

There is a 2006 article by Judd and Randolph which looks at the evaluation methods used in community/ neighborhood renewal programs in Australia. I was quite excited when I found this article last year because it saves me a lot of work, but I also think a tension which occurs in the article highlights a more general problem- the relationship between methodology and criteria.

In research there is always going to be a relationship between what you want to measure or compare and how you undertake the measurement and comparison. Research methods, at least in the way I was taught them, are used as tools which can be applied in different ways to give you different types of information.

Judd and Randolph argue for a national framework to be used in the evaluation of renewal programs, but are the objectives for all renewal programs similar enough to be served by such a framework? One of the evaluation methods that Judd and Randolph discuss, the ‘IMPACT Evaluation Tool’, comes with a list of nine dimensions along which program outcomes are measured (Judd & Randolph 2006: 109). Of course these dimensions are not the outcomes and need to be combined with the outcomes to come up with clear criteria for evaluation, but this is still a way of shaping what the criteria for evaluation are.

In my limited experience, renewal programs are based around objectives and I do not think that these objectives are solely for the benefit of the target group. In Victoria all of the Neighbourhood Renewal projects have the same six ‘action areas’, which are also referred to as objectives. The local leadership teams and community consultation data are used in the development of plans, but these plans sit under the specified objectives. Is a national framework a way to improve services and to gather more meaningful data or is it a way to deny the unique factors in each area where renewal programs are or could be rolled out? Who gets to decide what the objectives are and what are suitable ways of meeting them?

Renewal programs are generally paid for by state governments. Is it fair enough for the state government to decide what should be happening in areas and then roll out programs that meet those ends, or do the residents have a right to some self determination? Then, is this self determination individual or collective? Nobody decides what they want in isolation, we are all influenced by many factors. So governments could have the right to influence us. After all, they are the elected representatives of others in our state. There is little outcry against state funded programs which seek to prevent young offenders re-offending.

The fact that I have so many questions which only lead to more questions rather than any answers seems to suggest to me that I better just choose somewhere arbitrarily and get on with reading. As for work, I think I we will loose this battle as we are too small to overthrow the strangle grip of the criteria used to evaluate our sector. It is hard to accept that this battle is one that will be lost because somebody else can hide behind check boxes, but I suppose those check boxes are there for a reason. Perhaps the first task I can set for myself is to work out what people are so scared of when it comes to the possibility of a society where the criteria can be questioned.

Judd, B., and B. Randolph. 2006. Qualitative methods and the evaluation of community renewal programs in Australia: Towards a national framework. Urban Policy and Research 24:97-114.

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One Response to “Who gets to choose the boxes?”

  1. Self-determination (a few more thoughts) « Another student blog Says:

    […] Another student blog Just another WordPress.com weblog « Who gets to choose the boxes? […]

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