DAVID G. ALTMAN
Empowerment Evaluation: Knowledge and Tools for Self-Assessment and Accountability. Edited by David M. Fetterman, Shakeh J. Kaftarian, & Abraham Wandersman. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1996, pp. xii + 411.
Empowerment Evaluation is yet another book in a long line of books on evaluation produced by Sage Publications. More than any other publisher, Sage has put program evaluation and evaluation research on the social science radar screen. This is not just another run-of-the-mill, how-to, evaluation book, however. Fetterman and colleagues provide the reader with a new, and nicely packaged 400 page, 16 chapter examination of a relatively old idea, empowerment, albeit dressed in new clothes and presented by an impressive and diverse array of authors. For anyone with even a passing interest in evaluation, this is a book to place on an easily accessible bookshelf.
Fetterman lays the groundwork for the book in an excellent introductory chapter on theory and practice. If youre short on time, you can read this 40+ page chapter and for the most part get a good sense of what empowerment evaluation is, and how it might be useful. Fetterman defined empowerment evaluation as "the use of evaluation concepts, techniques, and findings to foster improvement and self-determination...[it] has an unambiguous value orientation --it is designed to help people help themselves and improve their programs using a form of self-evaluation and reflection (pp. 4-5)."
The community psychology audience would resonate with this perspective given that the intellectual and philosophical roots of community psychology emanate in part from these very values. This then begs the question, "so whats unique about empowerment evaluation?" First, mainstream evaluation is not as likely as community psychology to ascribe to these values. Indeed, the methodological purist might argue that empowerment evaluation compromises scientific objectivity. Thus, this is an important book for the evaluation community to read. Second, the book is a treatise on the topic as it includes 16 chapters on both theory and practice, and includes tools, forms, and checklists. As such, the book will be of interest to theoreticians as well as individuals working on the front-lines. The books comprehensive approach is an added benefit. Third, noted leaders in community psychology have contributed chapters (e.g., Steve Fawcett, Jean Ann Linney, Roger Mitchell, Paul Florin) and Abe Wandersman is a co-editor, thus making the book even more relevant to the interests of community psychologists. Finally, the chapters illustrate the use of empowerment in a diverse array of settings, from school classrooms to community organizations to philanthropies to government. Anyone who doubts the widespread applicability of empowerment should read this book.
The editors have for the most part done a good job of making the 16 chapters cohesive. I was particularly interested in the chapters on accelerated schools (Levin), HIV prevention evaluation (Gomez & Goldstein), womens services organizations (Andrews), evaluation at federal and local levels (Yin, Kaftarian, & Jacobs), community prevention coalitions (Stevenson, Mitchell & Florin), participatory and empowerment evaluation (Dugan), and the plan quality index (Butterfoss, Goodman, Wandersman, Valois & Chinman). As you can see, this book contains a smorgasbord of delectable topics.
Although I think the book makes an important contribution, I would have liked to have seen more written about the intersections and tensions between empowerment evaluation and other forms of evaluation. There are both theoretical and practical implications of going down the empowerment path versus, or in addition to, other evaluation paths. More discussion about this would have helped the reader connect empowerment evaluation to the larger field of evaluation.
In the concluding chapter, Fetterman writes: "I believe that evaluation is basic; like reading, writing, and arithmetic. I believe that evaluation should be a fundamental skill, an integral part of any educated citizens repertoire. I also believe that anyone can learn the basic skills of evaluation...We need every tool we can find to respond to the pressing social and environmental problems we face (p. 383)". To this I say, "right on!" "Lets get to work."
The Community Psychologist, Volume 30, Number 4, October 1997, pp. 16-17.