Program evaluation in Social work: Internal versus external program evaluators


  1. Introduction
  2. Internal evaluators
  3. External evaluators
  4. Three paradigms


The evaluator chosen to evaluate the programme may be considered just as important as the evaluation process itself. Evaluators can be internal (people involved in the programme being evaluated) or external (people who aren't involved in any part of the program's execution or implementation). (2004, Division of Oversight Services). The following is a summary of the benefits and drawbacks of internal and external evaluators adapted from the Division of Oversight Services (2004); for a more detailed list of benefits and drawbacks of internal and external evaluators, see (Division of oversight services, 2004).

Internal evaluators 


  • May have a better overall understanding of the programme and informal knowledge of it.
  • Less threatening because the staff is already acquainted.
  • Less expensive


  • Possibly less objective
  • May be preoccupied with other programme activities and not give the evaluation their full attention.
  • As an evaluator, you may not have received adequate training.

External evaluators


  • More objective of the process, offers new perspectives, different angles to observe and critique the process
  • May be able to dedicate greater amount of time and attention to the evaluation
  • May have greater expertise and evaluation brain


  • It's possible that the contract, monitoring, and negotiations will take longer.
  • Unfamiliarity with programme personnel may cause anxiety about being evaluated.
  • May be unfamiliar with the organization's policies and programme constraints.

Three paradigms


Within programme evaluation, Potter (2006) identifies and describes three broad paradigms. The first, and most common, is the positivist approach, which holds that evaluation can only take place when a programme has "objective," observable, and measurable aspects, necessitating primarily quantitative evidence. The positivist approach includes evaluation dimensions such as needs analysis, programme theory analysis, programme process analysis, impact analysis, and efficiency analysis (Rossi, Lipsey and Freeman, 2004). A study conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California report titled "Evaluating Academic Programs in California's Community Colleges," in which the evaluators examine measurable activities (i.e. enrollment data) and conduct quantitive assessments like factor analysis, is a detailed example of the positivist approach.


The second paradigm identified by Potter (2006) is interpretive approaches, in which it is argued that the evaluator must develop an understanding of all stakeholders' perspectives, experiences, and expectations. This would result in a better understanding of the various meanings and needs held by stakeholders, which is necessary before making decisions about a program's merit or value. Although there is no standardised method, observation, interviews, and focus groups are commonly used by evaluators during their time with the programme. The World Bank commissioned a report that details eight approaches for combining qualitative and quantitative methods to yield insights not possible with just one method.


Potter (2006) also identifies critical-emancipatory approaches to programme evaluation, which are largely based on action research for social change. This approach is much more ideological, and the evaluator frequently engages in more social activism. This method would work well in qualitative and participatory evaluations. Potter claims that this type of evaluation can be especially useful in developing countries because of its critical focus on societal power structures and emphasis on participation and empowerment.

Regardless of the evaluation paradigm used, whether positivist, interpretive, or critical-emancipatory, it is critical to recognise that evaluation takes place in specific socio-political contexts. Evaluation does not take place in a vacuum, and all evaluations are influenced by socio-political factors, whether they are aware of it or not. It's critical to recognise that evaluations and findings from this type of process can be used to support or oppose specific ideological, social, and political agendas (Weiss, 1999). [42] This is especially true in an age when resources are limited and organisations compete for the priority of certain projects over others (Louw, 1999).

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