Traditional evaluation positions the purpose of evaluation as being, to determine the quality, significance, value, merit or worth of a person, policy, proposal, plan, or project. Utilization Focused Evaluation (UFE), places the utility of the evaluation at the forefront, and focuses on intended use by intended user. UFE is “a process for helping primary intended users select the most appropriate content, model, methods, theory and uses for their particular situation (Patton, 2011, p. 5).” These evaluators serve as facilitators and help users determine what would be most useful to them.
UFE is a methodologically neutral approach and does not prescribe one particular methodology, but rather insists that methods should be determined by how useful they are to the intended user, or users.
UF- Evaluators are expected to facilitate a process that allows primary intended users to make all decisions during the evaluation process. Users decide what is most useful to them. They become part of the evaluation process and help determine what questions should be asked. What information is most useful or helpful?
For Patton, the role of the evaluator is to guide or facilitate a process where evaluation becomes a tool for learning, developing accountability, documenting improvements and decision-making. Evaluators’ help teams focus on priority questions, and constantly reminds team to focus on utility versus interest.
The Utilization Focused Evaluator is highly skilled, and brings different skills to the team when needed. At times the evaluators role is to suggest an appropriate methodology to the team. Other times it is to help the team develop, or make their theory of change explicit. Sometimes the job of the UF-Evaluator is to highlight potential controversies that might arise out of choosing particular methodologies. The UF-Evaluator brings the skills of an evaluator to the team and provides them with the information to make decisions that help facilitate a process that produces useful and useable evaluations.
UFE is not perfect and does have its drawbacks, Patton highlights that managing staff turnover can be problematic. When an evaluator spends time working with a team to determine what is most useful and a new person joins or someone leaves, it can complicate the evaluation process.
It should also be noted that because UFE facilitates a process where users make the decisions, it has the potential to facilitate a biased evaluation. The evaluator needs to remain vigilant and carefully manage potential scenarios where intended users use the evaluation to push an agenda.
Finally UFE, focuses on building the capacity of the team to continuously evaluate their project or program. At some point if the team is constantly coming up with the questions, they may ask what is the value, worth or merit of the UFE evaluator, which may then put the evaluator in the position of justifying their own value, worth or merit.
Despite these caveats UFE is still a powerful approach to evaluation and like most things, it is not perfect, but is most definitely useful.
Patton, M. Q. (2011). Essentials of Utilization-Focused Evaluation. Sage Publications, Inc..