Empowerment Evaluation Principles in Practice

Fetterman, D.M. and Wandersman, A. (2005)

New York: Guilford Publications

Fetterman, D.M. (2013)

Stanford, CA:  Stanford University Press

Fetterman, D.M., Kaftarian, S., and Wandersman, A. (2015)

Thousand Oaks, CA:

Sage Publications


Book Review


Stewart Donaldson

"Since its introduction by David Fetterman in 1994, empowerment evaluation has spread like wildfire across the globe.  From disadvantaged schools and communities to NASA and to corporate offices in South Africa, the 10 principles of empowerment evaluation are being embraced and applied to foster self-evaluation and self-determination.  What is it about empowerment evaluation that appeals so much to evaluation clients and stakeholders from all walks of life?  The answer lies in this new volume, the most comprehensive, readable, and up-to-date treatment of this evaluation approach.  I highly recommend this text to practicing evaluators, evaluation scholars, and instructors and students interested in learning about new evaluation theories for improving practice and learning to conduct effective empowerment evaluations."

--Stewart I. Donaldson, Dean, School of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences, Claremont Graduate University

"Empowerment evaluation signals the end of the days when evaluation was done in isolation of staff members and program participants.  The 'new age' of evaluation enables groups to achieve programmatic goals by putting the power in the hands of those individuals who know their programs and have a stake in seeing the programs succeed.  Fetterman and Wandersman give us the principles and the tools to build stronger communities through empowerment evaluation and to develop systems that incorporate evidence-based strategies.  This text is easy to use and takes the reader from an overview of classic evaluation methods to the heart of empowerment for success.  Thus, graduate students, novice evaluators, and experienced professionals can easily grasp the message and understand the process provided."

--Shirley S. Travis, PhD, APRN, FAAN, Dean, College of Nursing and Health Science, George Mason University

Fetterman and Wandersman have made a wonderful contribution to evaluation theory and literature with their new book, Empowerment Evaluation in Practice. It's no accident that the "in practice" part of the title is printed in red - that is the focus of this work. Beginning where the 1996 textbook, Empowerment Evaluation, left off, the volume clarifies the 10 principles of empowerment evaluation and applies them to the real world setting in two detailed case studies. In their own words, they have successfully revealed the "heart and soul" of empowerment evaluation and enthusiastically offer it as a method that can be learned and mastered by anyone who is willing to try.

-- Dr. Fran Butterfoss, Professor and Head, Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, Center for Pediatric Research

“This book represents an important step forward for Fetterman and Wandersman....By articulating the defining principles of practice, practitioners of empowerment evaluation now have a framework by which their work might be guided.”

-- Evaluation and Program Planning

"This updating of the important concept of empowerment evaluation is ideal for those who teach and carry out human service evaluations. The editors and many of the contributing authors are pioneers in the field, and bring the ideas up to date with accessible examples that will help newcomers to the field understand and use this valuable and humanistic approach to program evaluation. In the classroom, this book will serve as a readily adaptable and applicable text."

--Leon Ginsberg, Dean, College of Social Work, University of South Carolina

"This work deepens our understanding of empowerment evaluation by providing a clear set of principles together with well-constructed case examples that distinguish EE from other forms of assessment. This book is essential reading for all evaluators, especially those interested in evaluation approaches that complement and reinforce community-based, participatory practices."

--Robert M. Goodman, Professor and Chair, Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh

"This book takes the authors' previous work to the next level.  It provides an excellent, tangible grounding for people new to empowerment evaluation, as well as helping experienced evaluators to reflect on and improve their current practices.  Instead of focusing on feeling good, this book provides examples and tools for doing good through the empowerment evaluation process."

--David M. Chavis, Association for the Study and Development of Community, Gaithersburg, Maryland

"Making change in the world is a complex undertaking, particularly when the aim is to change systems and communities.  Such efforts deserve and need an evaluation process that can simultaneously and interactively help change agents plan, guide, and learn from the change process.  Many of us have been looking for this book, with its compelling theory, its understandable and teachable process, its affirmation of participants’ knowledge and sensibilities, and its practical examples.  This book is an essential resource for all who are planning and executing efforts to improve programs, systems, and communities."

--Peter L. Benson, President, Search Institute, Minneapolis, Minnesota

"This volume not only presents the principles of empowerment evaluation, but also provides concrete examples of their efficacy in achieving outstanding outcomes.  The uniqueness of this book is how empowerment and evaluation are applied as interdependent elements in the evaluation process.  Numerous cases clearly demonstrate that there can be no successful evaluation of a program/organization without empowerment of all the stakeholders from the very outset in its planning and implementation, and there can be no empowerment without ongoing, inclusive relationships of mutual accountability.  This is a superb presentation of the principles and practices of empowerment evaluation as a flexible process useful in most program improvement/enhancement efforts."

--Mary Kay Kohles-Baker, Senior Research Nurse, Emory University School of Nursing; Executive Director, Atlanta Regional Health Forum

Given the need to implement evidence-based social-emotional learning (SEL) programs and strategies, assess their impacts, and sustain and improve them over time, this book is a timely resource on evaluation. Intended mainly as a guide for scholars, practitioners, and funders, it makes explicit the key values of empowerment evaluation (EE). Like SEL problem-solving models, EE provides an ongoing and systematic approach in  which program implementation and continual program modification and improvement come together in a cycle of problem definition, goal setting, solution generating and implementation, and outcome evaluation. The special emphasis of EE, however, is on the voice, vision and authority of  the client, as opposed to the outside evaluator. This book provides a valuable and humanistic approach to program evaluation.

 -- CASEL Book Review

(Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning)

Book Review


Adina Jacobson

In Empowerment Evaluation in the Digital Villages: Hewlett Pack- ard’s $15 Million Race Towards Social Justice, David M. Fetterman presents the story of three digital villages working towards “bridging the digital divide.” That is, three diverse, low-income communities, using substantial grant funding from Hewlett Packard, embarked on projects aimed to help their members access and productively use the Internet and technology. These projects all used empowerment evaluation as a tool to help them achieve success. This book uses the three experiences as case examples demonstrating the mechanics, successes, and challenges behind empowerment evaluation.

The book’s 10 chapters can be grouped into three key topics:

  • Background, explaining the needs, key players (funder, com- munities, and evaluators), and theory behind empowerment evaluation. Chapter 4 is of particular interest to newcomers to Fetterman’s work, as it introduces readers to empower- ment evaluation’s basic principles and rationale.
  • Case examples, narrative explaining the key stages in em- powerment evaluation for each of the three digital villages. These stages include articulating a mission, taking stock of the current situation, planning ongoing performance monitoring/management, and measuring change over time. Within each chapter, Fetterman provides some background information, details the implementation of that evaluation stage within each digital village, and then articulates some sort of conclusion or wrap-up, including linkages to the next chapter.
  • Synthesis, an analysis of overarching impact and lessons learned. Learnings centre on the value of community ca- pacity building but also include some helpful reflection on successes and failures of the evaluation itself, which may inform planning for other evaluations.

    The predictable formula used in case examples (background, descrip- tion of each project during the evaluation stage, and conclusion) helps readers to easily navigate the text. If one were doing a more detailed study of empowerment evaluation, it would be relatively easy to look at each chapter in isolation. However, at times, this ap- proach can fragment the story of each digital village. Readers may find themselves flipping between sections, trying to remember infor- mation presented in earlier chapters or (for those who are similarly bad with names) remember which village is which.

Throughout Empowerment Evaluation in the Digital Villages, Fetter- man uses a central image, or allegory, of a race to explain the Digital Villages project. The image is first introduced in the context of fuel, explaining that “[d]esire is the fuel of choice that drives any suc- cessful community change initiative.” The image of a race is woven throughout the book, providing compelling comparisons that drive home Fetterman’s understanding of the context, the project, and empowerment evaluation. Fetterman successfully uses these com- parisons to communicate the way he views the role of various aspects of empowerment evaluation. When it comes to empowerment evalu- ation itself, Fetterman uses different examples, at times comparing empowerment evaluation to the race car’s “engine,” a “road map,” or “learning to drive a car.” While this did create a few head-scratching moments of trying to figure out which it is, each comparison adds to one’s understanding as multiple metaphors demonstrate the ap- proach’s multiple roles. Furthermore, the race allegory served to keep this reader fully engaged. Use of race and race car central imagery set this book apart from other dry evaluation texts. The technique unified the text as well, with this reader eagerly awaiting the next use of race terminology (even if only to see how long Fetterman could keep the image relevant).

The book is directed toward three reader groups:



1. communities and community members who are working toward social change and may be able to use some of the techniques described;

  1. academics (including evaluators, educators, and healthcare providers) who are interested in empowerment evaluation and may benefit from a case example of a successful empow- erment evaluation; and

  2. those who are skeptical of the potential for social change who may find the stories inspirational.

This reviewer, writing from the perspective of a practicing evalua- tor, believes that Fetterman has likely been successful in reaching his first and third target groups/objectives (i.e., communities and skeptics). The book is highly inspirational, showing that large-scale change is possible while viewing it through a realistic lens to see that it is also challenging and takes time.

With regards to the second target group/objective (academics/evalu- ators learning about the methodology), Empowerment Evaluation in the Digital Villages piques one’s interest in empowerment evaluation. This book engages readers in the case example and provides compel- ling arguments for the value of empowerment evaluation, particu- larly in ensuring that evaluation findings are used in a meaningful way. However, as a stand-alone piece, this book leaves evaluators wanting more. The sections on methodology and lessons learned are a good read but do not provide the level of detail that would be needed to replicate the methodology.

Empowerment Evaluation in the Digital Villages is a well-organized book that makes impressive use of central imagery to engage read- ers. It did a rather good job of convincing me that empowerment evaluation would be a positive force on many communities. However, as an evaluator who is not experienced in the approach, I was left wanting more detail and clarity from the book. As such, it is a rec- ommended read either as an introduction to be quickly followed up by other works on empowerment evaluation, or for the more experi- enced empowerment evaluator to use as an illustration of the power of the approach.

The Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation

Vol. 28 No.1 Pages 97–99

ISSN 0834-1516  Copyright © 2013  Canadian Evaluation Society


Book Review


Dr. Lois-ellen Datta

Empowerment evaluation is the name given by David Fetterman in his American Evaluation Association (AEA) 1993 Presidential Address to an evaluation theory and practice intended ‘‘... to foster improvement and self-determination.’’ Almost 20 years after the first edition of Fetterman, Kaftarian, and Wandersman’s (1996) text on empowerment evaluation, the second edition— Empowerment Evaluation: Knowledge and Tools for Self-Assessment, Evaluation Capacity Building, and Accountability—is seen by the authors as ‘‘a transformation, literally decades beyond our first voyage’’ (2015, p. 16)....

Fetterman’s voice thus was joined with quite a few others who underscored the significance of deliberative democratic, social justice, and transformative approaches. But what a voice! This man wasn’t talking only about evaluators involving stakeholders. Fetterman was about self-evaluations, building participant/community capacity with control of all aspects of an evaluation in the hands of the stakeholders....

. Our role as evaluators was to be a critical friend, a coach, and a source of technical assistance when it was requested by the self-evaluating communities and organizations. No wonder that in 1993 ‘‘conversations and arguments spilled out into the hallways’’ (2015, p. xi).....

Fetterman’s introductory chapter invites readers to reexamine critiques by Scriven, Patton, Sechrest, Stufflebeam, Donaldson, and others as well as a comprehensive review of empowerment evaluation by Miller and Campbell (2006). Each critique was responded to by Fetterman, not a man to be intimidated, in a dialogue that over the decades seems marked by growing mutual understanding, preciseness, and respect. By now, empowerment evaluation and its leaders have received AEA’s highest accolades, such as the Myrdal Evaluation Practice Award (awarded to Fetterman in 1995 and Kaftarian in 1996), the Outstanding Publication Award (Wandersman in 2008), and the Lazarsfeld Evaluation Theory Award (Fetterman in 2000) as well as other recognition....

my conclusion is: Read this 2015 edition, particularly for readers new to evaluation who want, in one place, a compendium of what empowerment evaluation is about, a statement of its principles, a set of case examples in diverse settings, and an understanding of where Fetterman, Kaftarian, and Wandersman are at now in their thinking. Equally, read this new book particularly for evaluators who have not kept up with Fetterman’s many articles, the great debates with Stufflebeam, Patton, and Scriven, and the books published by Fetterman and his colleagues between 1996 and 2015. That is, evaluators who want to debate, consider, discuss, reject, adapt, and/or adopt empowerment evaluation, as intended by Fetterman, ought to be talking about what he is saying now, not the 1996 launch....

Splendidly, the results of more than 25 years of dedicated hard work and diligent thought are being shared with us. My recommendation remains, unequivocally and appreciatively: This book belongs on our shelves. Get it, read it, and, as appropriate, use it.

See the full review here.





Colleagues' Comments



2007 Controversy

Empowerment Evaluation continues to crystallize central issues for evaluators and the field of evaluation.  A recent article in the American Journal of Evaluation addresses many of the common misperceptions in the field.  It is titled:  Empowerment Evaluation:  Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.  The authors were David Fetterman and Abraham Wandersman.  American Journal of Evaluation, Vol. 28, No. 2., June 2007, pp. 179-198.

2005 Controversy

Drs. Michael Patton and Scriven have also written book reviews of Empowerment Evaluation Principles in Practice.

Their reviews appeared in the American Journal of Evaluation in the September 2005 issue.  This evaluation book, like the first one, has generated some controversy.

Dr. Fetterman has published an abbreviated response in the journal to correct any misstatements and inaccuracies made by the reviewers.  Dr. Wandersman has also provided an abbreviated response to their reviews.