I’m an enthusiastic practitioner and proponent of ‘goal-free methods’ (including Outcome Harvesting, QuIP etc). As Hur Hassnain mentioned below, I increasingly wondering whether the term ‘goal-free’ has outlived its original usefulness, and may require an update. (Or, to be even more daring, perhaps the underlying concept could also use clarification and refreshing.)
I say this for several reasons:
1. None of the programs to which I apply ‘goal-free’ methods in the peacebuilding space (broadly defined) are without goals. They all have a goal, albeit sometimes a loosely defined one. We do in fact center that goal during the evaluation process; if not, how would we discern whether or not the program is moving and influencing in the intended direction? However those programs are often without specific objectives, or else they have objectives that are set aside for purposes of a particular evaluation exercise. Hence the potentially awkward alternative term ‘objective-free evaluation.’
2. The term ‘goal-free’ doesn’t allude in any helpful way to the reasons why such methods are currently used. As I understand it, the original reason for using goal-free methods was largely to avoid confirmation bias. More recently, the common reasons center around the impossibility or undesirability of accurately predicting results in advance in certain settings. This applies to social change efforts in highly complex fast-changing contexts and also, less commonly, to programs that are driven by iterative participant-led planning. The alternative term that I prefer here is ’emergent’- the program results are emergent, and so are the evaluation methods.
3. The term ‘goal-free’ seems to come across as alien, rigid and unrealistic with most audiences. Only the ‘evaluation nerds’ among us know what it means. Speaking for myself, this is a very real problem as I try to promote awareness of the benefits and limitations of goal-free methods among my clients and constituencies. I find myself avoiding the term ‘goal-free’ and talking instead about ’emergence.’ I don’t think I’m alone in this. I believe that the potentially outdated terminology may actually be holding back the development of the field.
What do others think about this challenging issue?
Ripple – Peace Research & Consulting LLC