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Denver in November 2: Using Stories in Evaluation

This was my second Wednesday 11-5 workshop at the American Evaluation Association annual meeting.  It was taught by Richard Krueger from the University of Minnesota, who provided this overview of why we would want to use stories in evaluation:

  • Relatively easy to remember
  • Involve emotions
  • Transmit culture, norms, tacit knowledge
  • Add descriptive details to quantitative evidence
  • Provide insights about individuals
  • Explore themes

With the definition of a story as “a brief narrative told for a purpose,” we can use stories for evaluation that are systematically collected, are verifiable, respect confidentiality, and make a statement about truthfulness and representativeness.  Details about collection, analysis, and reporting should be provided.  A strategy for collecting stories can include decisions about what themes to look for (success stories, stories of challenges or opportunities, stories from participants about how a program works).   Analysis can be facilitated by looking at stories’ features (do they follow a traditional outline of background-problem-resolution-purpose; are they persuasive stories with a protagonist, obstacles, awareness that allows the protagonist to prevail, transormation).

The instructor pointed out that success stories have benefits (inform stakeholders and persuade them to take action) but also risks (story might convey unrealistic expectations, might seem naive, might result in fewer resources allocated to a program).

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