Lessons learned about evaluation in the United States and some possible implications for Europe

Thomas D. Cook*, Werner W. Wittmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The history of program evaluation in the United States over the last 25 years is used to abstract themes that may be of importance to the development of evaluation in Europe. The themes relate to (1) the organizational context of evaluation, particularly as regards the tension between the different roles of the social scientist and the auditor; (2) the dependence of evaluation on politics, which entails that research findings be selectively used, and that evaluation questions serve some political interests more than others unless active steps are taken to make evaluations broadly accountable and their results widely disseminated; (3) the reality that most understandings of evaluation emphasize describing what programs have actually achieved, whereas some program planners want it to refer to the ex-ante task of analyzing what the results of a future program might be if it were to be implemented; (4) the mutually supportive roles that both qualitative and quantitative methods have to play in evaluation once the trap is avoided of assuming the supremacy of either one of these method types over the other; and (5) the limited value that can usually be assigned to the results of individual evaluations when compared to what careful literature reviews can accomplish. We argue that a flourishing evaluation culture requires strong methods, strong theory about the nature of evaluation and its links to use, plus continuous updates of what evaluations have discovered in different substantive areas. Today, North American evaluation is perhaps best characterized as applied social-science methods - and this may be too narrow a conception for evaluation to continue flourishing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-115
Number of pages19
JournalEuropean Journal of Psychological Assessment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1998


  • Evaluation
  • Evaluation culture
  • Ex-post and ex-ante research
  • Literature reviews
  • Organization of research
  • Politics of research
  • Qualitative and quantitative methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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