Re-Purposing Policy Evaluation to Learn About Social Transformation

UoM administered thesis: Phd


This thesis is situated in the core idea of policy evaluation that evidence should be used to identify the impact of an intervention and inform future social policies. The aim of this thesis has been to re-purpose evaluation through a deliberate engagement with normative foundations. This thesis is based on a critique of what scholars such as Carol Weiss have identified as establishment forms of evaluation. Establishment evaluation can privilege technocratic forms of knowledge and uncritically follows the original framings of policy. Establishment evaluation is problematised as it tends to produce knowledge with a limited scope for policy-learning about social transformation. The thesis uses an abductive approach to re-purpose evaluation through empirical investigation into more open and contextualised forms of research. The empirical investigation involved four action research projects: a photovoice project about everyday life; an evaluation of a project designed to tackle food poverty; an evaluation of a project focused on supporting low income families; and a collaboration to adapt the evaluation approach of the charity Save the Children. The research questions for this thesis are: (1) in what ways can more open forms of research inform an evaluation? (2) What types of contextualised research are most relevant for an evaluation? (3) How can narratives of impact produce causal explanations through an evaluation? The findings suggest that a more open and contextualised approach to research can develop a broader investigative scope for evaluation, beyond the original framing of a policy. Three foundations for a new form of counter-establishment evaluation have been developed: firstly, a cooperative approach is proposed to co-construct situated causal explanations through an evaluation with participants; secondly, a new regulative ideal of participatory parity has been constructed to enable a normative assessment of how an intervention has delivered social justice; and finally, an original concept of everyday radicalism has been created to produce knowledge that can disrupt dominant discourses of political economy and existing frames of social policy. The thesis develops an approach for a more publicly engaged normative political sociology that can contribute knowledge to support social change.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2019