Evaluation, Care and Society

Dialogues between evaluators and care ethicists on a caring society

Edited by:
Merel Visse, the University of Humanistic Studies
Tineke A. Abma, VU Medical Centre, dept. of Medical Humanities, and EMGO+ research institute

A volume in the series: Evaluation and Society. Editor(s): Jennifer C. Greene, University of Illinois - Champaign. Stewart I. Donaldson, Claremont Graduate University.

This book project explores the intersection between evaluation and care in contemporary society. The book seeks to address how we, as evaluators and care ethicists, can contribute to a caring society, while acknowledging the reality that regulation and financial incentives now control the public sector. Evaluators, for instance, try to create conditions for the repair and growth of social practices by fostering mutual understanding and engagement of the people involved. The narrative vignette below illustrates that. The work of evaluators is conducted in the context of program planning and policy making and aims to have an impact on people, practices, policies and society. Care ethicists have similar aims: they develop conceptual frameworks that promote care as an orientation for social policy. Care is not only considered a fundamental human need, covering all domains of life, but a social practice as well. One example is when nurses care about and for their patients in close collaboration with family members. A second example is when patients’ perspectives are taken into consideration by physicians, nurses and other care professionals when difficult decisions on treatment need to be taken. Care ethics acknowledge people as fragile and vulnerable, interdependent and socially embedded. Despite the similarities in their aims and central concepts, until now, there has been no structured encounter between evaluators and care theorists. We believe a dialogue between these disciplines and networks can enrich and deepen their practices and thinking, and in the end contribute to a caring society and a deeper understanding of ‘good care.’

This book places people and morality at the center: it especially focuses on approaches that respect the bodily and social vulnerabilities of people in specific contexts. Most evaluators meet these human features on a daily basis, when precarious positions of persons are challenged in contexts of power asymmetries. Think about differences among evaluation stakeholders in knowledge and experience with program or policy objectives, and in hierarchical positions and financial, material or bodily resources. Think of practitioners, like teachers and nurses, who work in schools and hospitals where they are increasingly held accountable for their measurable productivity and consumer satisfaction, when what they primarily want to do is to take good care of their pupils and patients. When we really want to acknowledge the importance of these caring human practices, evaluation can no longer be solely about measurement or even what’s “just and fair.” Evaluation cannot solely focus on the rights people have, but must also concentrate on what matters to the people whose positions are contested, what they care for and about. These are normative and moral issues, which cannot be solved in an instrumental way. Evaluation is then no longer a dispassionate method or technique standing apart from practices or applied within practices, but moves to a particular kind of moral engagement with practices. This ‘relational work’ is precisely the focus of care ethicists, next to their aim to rethink care by paying special attention to other concepts like bodilyness, vulnerability, contextuality, affectivity, meaning and position (Leget et al., forthcoming). The book connects these two fields of study: care ethics and evaluation studies.

In the book, we will broaden the discussion of the field of evaluation on what it means to evaluate a practice from an instrumental or a justice/rights perspective to a care ethical perspective. From a care ethical perspective, care for policies, programs and people is not just an activity or orientation to find out what is ‘just’ from a detached higher moral ground, but an engagement with human and social practices, filled with complex moral and ambiguous situations that people need to make sense of. For the field of care ethics, this book can open up horizons for interactive, participatory and deliberative research practices that do not solely theorize about care, but enact a care perspective and thus aim to connect and interweave conceptual and empirical work. Evaluation approaches promoted in this book can be considered a particular form of pedagogy, a process of teaching and learning for action-oriented (self-)understanding (Schwandt, 2002). By a series of cases of evaluation studies and theoretical reflections about caring, this book presents and discusses past experiences and new visions on how evaluation approaches and care ethics can contribute to the nurturing and preservation of care in our work and our society.