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Choosing the Right Evaluation Method

Neither qualitative nor quantitative methods are superior in all evaluation situations. Each inquiry mode corresponds to a functional aspect of sense making and each can be addressed through qualitative and quantitative methods.


Key issues in deciding on which method or methods to use for any evaluation are the context of the situation and the evaluation questions that need to be addressed. Qualitative methods can be used in various stages of an evaluation:

· Determining the focus of the evaluation

· Evaluating the implementation or the process of a program

· Determining improvements and changes to a program




Because our views of the roles of qualitative and quantitative evaluation continue to change, it is possible to find advocates for and examples of the view that qualitative data can be the main source of information in randomized experiments


Qualitative methods are often used in evaluations because they tell the program’s story by capturing and communicating the participant’s stories.


Qualitative methods are particularly useful for exploratory research and participatory, or empowerment, research. Empowerment research involves significant collaboration between the evaluator and stakeholders during most or all of the steps in the evaluation process, from the planning and design to the final interpretation and recommendations.

There is more diversity within qualitative evaluation approaches than within quantitative approaches.


Evaluation may be entirely conducted using a qualitative approach, but it will depend on the context and needs of the evaluation. Initial qualitative exploratory work is followed by a quantitative approach, particularly when an evaluator is developing survey questions. Developing logic models is a qualitative process that relies on interpreting documents, inter- viewing stakeholders, and putting together a visual representation of a program.


Sometimes qualitative findings are collected and/or presented along with quantitative data, such as that gathered from a survey with both closed- ended and open-ended questions. Qualitative research sometimes occurs after quantitative research has been completed, such as when an organization is determining how to follow up on survey results that indicate a program needs changes.


There are strong practical reasons to view qualitative evaluation methods as complementary to quantitative methods. The best examples of both paradigms seem actually to be mixed models. Perhaps this is not surprising. Most evaluations are conducted under many constraints. These include relatively short time frames, relatively little money, often intractable measurement challenges. In most circumstances, evaluators have to do the best they can and need more, not fewer, approaches on which they can draw

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