Public policy evaluation, meta-evaluation, and essentialism : the case of rural cooperatives
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This paper looks at some of the structural aspects of the making of evaluations of policies in order to help explain some common features of evaluative discussion of public policy. What from one standpoint may seem to be a lack of an evaluative stance, a non-evaluation, may from another appear to be the very model of an evaluation. The results of an evaluation carried out according to one method may conflict hopelessly with those carried out by another. The results of evaluations by two different methods may be the same and yet unrecognized as such by any of the parties concerned; and so on. The main source of illustrations we have chosen is (part of) the debate in the last decade on the evaluation at a general level of rural cooperative policies in developing countries. We are inclined to say that discussion and evaluation of rural service cooperatives has been particularly subject to failure even to hear, let alone to understand, by some of those making contributions from different perspectives and premises. Our treatment of this cooperatives literature cannot be exhaustive. In any event its major purpose is to help present and develop some ideas of general interest and application, which do not stand or fall only insofar as applicable to cooperative studies. Debates about other policies and institutions, isms other than cooperativism, where they have already attracted complex evaluative (and non-evaluative) exchanges, are similarly subject to rev~ew according to the procedures of this paper. This is illustrated in a later section (Section 7) by a brief notice and analysis of an important debate on capitalism and imperialism. The theoretical ideas in this paper are themselves far from being a survey of, or a programme for, evaluation theory, or even for the comparative analysis of evaluation arguments. But by looking at some ways in which the different parts within alternative or conflicting approaches may be related or contrasted, both within approaches and between them, our aim is to contribute to establishing a realm of discourse in which comparisons between rural (and other) organizations and policies can be made that do not, whether wittingly or otherwise, just talk past each other.