A goal-free evaluation (GFE) is any evaluation in which the evaluator makes judgments without specifically knowing their aims or objectives or referencing them. Since it seems logical to inquire whether the program, project, or intervention we finance is doing what it promises to, almost all institutions historically, particularly those in the public sector, have been goal-focused. GFE is relevant in such a situation when institutions or assessors seek to examine the genuine outcome and development without regard to the goals they have set.
By appointing a screener to hide goal-related information from the goal-free evaluator, the program’s stated (or implied) goals and objectives are purposefully hidden from the evaluator. This evaluation methodology is known as goal-free evaluation (GFE). The goal-based evaluation (GBE) bias, which taints the evaluator’s capacity to evaluate the program’s genuine outcomes and worth, is controlled by screening the evaluator from program goals. Even though GFE has been in use for over fifty years, its literature is still very theoretical and scant, and GBE continues to be the most often used evaluation method.
According to Scriven (1991), GFE is methodologically unrestricted. As long as the other techniques do not require goal orientation, like Chen’s (1990) theory-driven assessment, they can be used with or modified in conjunction with various evaluation approaches, models, and methodologies. Goal-free evaluation can be applied with quantitative or qualitative data-gathering approaches, such as the Success Case Method (e.g., Brinkerhoff, 2003).
The Process #
The evaluation in Michael Scriven’s (1991) goal-free evaluation paradigm looks at a program’s actual influence on recognized needs. In other words, program goals are not the criterion used to evaluate the program. Instead, the evaluation examines how and what the program does to fulfill client needs. With this model, you observe without a checklist, yet you accurately record all data and judge its importance and quality. Your observations will automatically lead to the formation of categories. This evaluation paradigm can collect data using both obtrusive and discreet. The evaluator does not have any prior views about the program’s outcome—that is, goals.
Youker (2013) put out the following guiding principles to better explain broad guidelines for the goal-free evaluator:
- Without mentioning aims or objectives, choose relevant effects to investigate.
- Describe what happened when no goals or objectives were present.
- Determine whether the program or intervention can be rationally blamed for what transpired.
- Determine whether the consequences are more dominantly favorable, negative, or neutral. (p. 434)
Goal statements should not taint the evaluator’s technique. The evaluator attempts to create a program description, accurately identify processes, and establish their value to the program. As the evaluator, you collect data on actual events and assess their significance in addressing the stakeholders’ demands.
To summarise, the GFE approach can work in tandem with other evaluation approaches and can help evaluators look at outcomes beyond the confines of goals.
Scriven, M. (1972). Pros and cons about goal-free evaluation. Journal of Educational Evaluation, 3(4), 1-7.
Scriven, M. (1974). Pros and cons about goal-free evaluation. In W.J. Popham (Ed.), Evaluation in education: Current applications (pp. 34-67). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.
Scriven, M. (1991). Evaluation thesaurus (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.