Democratic evaluation

Democratic Evaluation is an approach where the evaluation aims to serve the whole community.

This allows people to be informed of what others are doing and sees the evaluator as someone who brokers the process. It generally focuses on inclusive practices which foster participation and collaboration. However, it is also used to ensure public accountability and transparency.

Anders Hanberger, in his paper Democratic governance and evaluation, outlines Barry MacDonald's discussion (1976, as cited in Hanberger, 2004) of the differences between autocratic, bureaucratic and democratic evaluations. 

Excerpt from Democratic governance and evaluation

"According to MacDonald autocratic evaluation is an evaluation approach that serves government agencies in control over the allocation of resources and 'it offers external validation of policy in exchange for compliance with its recommendations' (ibid:133). The evaluator is conceived as an expert advisor and a contract guarantees the evaluator's independence and ownership of the study.

In contrast, a bureaucratic evaluation provides 'unconditional service to those government agencies which have major control over the allocation of educational resources.' The evaluator accepts the values of the officeholders and undertakes an evaluation that is credible to the policy-makers. The evaluation is in this model owned by those who hold office and it is kept and 'lodged in its files', whereas the autocratic evaluation is also published in academic journals.

However, MacDonald does not conceive these approaches to be democratic at all. Instead, he suggests a democratic evaluation approach which provides service to the whole community. 'The basic value is an informed citizenry, and the evaluator acts as a broker in exchanges of information between groups who want knowledge of each other' (ibid:134). The key concepts of MacDonald's democratic evaluation are 'confidentiality,' 'negotiation,' and 'accessibility'. MacDonald also discusses the interplay between evaluation and democracy explicitly and stresses the role of evaluation as 'challenging monopolies of various kinds – of problem definition, of issue formulation, of data control, of information utilisation' (MacDonald, 1978: 12). To him the democratic evaluator's role is, first of all, to help 'all our peoples to choose between alternative societies' (ibid.) and to provide' a disinterested source of information about the origins, processes and effects of social action' (ibid.). Basically, these recommendations support a discursive or deliberative democracy." (Hanberger, 2004)

Table 2. Characteristics of three democratic evaluation orientations
Democratic orientation Intended use / function Evaluation focus Inclusion Dialogue Deliberation / discourse Evaluators role
EDE:- for the people Accountability Intended outputs and outcomes, goal achievement Policy and program makers Not important Not important Expert
PDE:- by the people Self-determination, empowerment, learning Goal development, process learning and progress Programme implementers, affected citizens/clients Very important Not important Advocate, facilitator

DDE:- with the people

Practical knowledge, learning, accountability, public debate Stakeholders criteria, learning, outcomes All legitimate groups Very important Very important Mediator, counsellor

Key: EDE = Elitist Democracy-oriented Evaluation, PDE = Participatory Democracy-oriented Evaluation, DDE = Discursive Democracy-oriented Evaluation.

(Hanberger, 2004, p.13)





Hanberger, A. (2004, October). Democratic governance and evaluation. Sixth EES (European Evaluation Society) conference, Berlin, Germany. Retrieved from (archived link)

MacDonald, B. (1976). Evaluation and the control of education. In Tawney, D.A. Curriculum Evaluation Today: Trends and Implications. Schools Council Research Studies. London. Macmillan.

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