Published: November 2020
Author(s): Sioned Pearce, Helen Blakely, David Frayne, Ian Rees Jones

Social Policy & Administration 55(5) pp 891-905

Here we present a critical exploration of evaluation as a concept within a state-led social policy programme. Studies critiquing this type of evaluation often assume its purpose is to provide knowledge and understanding of a given social policy, and its relative impact upon the social issue towards which it has been directed. However, drawing on the accounts of 25 community development workers gathered over the course of a 17 year state-led, anti-poverty programme (2001–2018), and building on existing critique of evaluation methodologies, we argue that evaluation is also instrumental in the reinforcement of hierarchical power relations between state and civil society. To develop this argument, evaluation is discussed in three related ways pertaining to hierarchy: (a) firstly, as a means of defining and ultimately producing (contested) constructions of value; (b) secondly, as a mechanism for securing forms of vertical accountability; (c) and finally, through its construction as a lost saviour: an entity with untapped potential for safeguarding the integrity of an initial political ideology. In this way, narratives from those working on the ground extend our understanding of the complexities and dualities embedded within evaluation. In light of this analysis, we argue for a more inclusive approach to evaluation practices, and the development of alternative heterarchies in the evaluation of social policy premised on processes of co-production and collaboration.

community development, evaluation, hierarchy, the state