In August 2016, SAMEA Board Member Ms Nombeko Mbava initiated a vibrant discussion on the SAMEAtalk platform regarding current thinking on impact evaluation methodologies.

The appropriate methodological approaches in conducting impact evaluations remain a debatable issue in the field of evaluation.  Evidence of what works, how it works and why it works remains limited and inconclusive.  In this context, impact evaluations based on theory-based methods such as Realist Evaluation have emerged and are increasingly utilised internationally.  These approaches have come to the fore as approaches that can potentially open the “black box” of programme mechanism and provide greater insights on programme causality.

Many SAMEAtalkers engaged enthusiastically on the questions posed regarding appropriate impact evaluations methods. The discussion deliberated on whether there was still an evident paradigm divide between those researchers and evaluation commissioners who favour evaluation designs that are based on purely quantitative methods versus qualitative methods.

It was discovered that in the last few years the international evaluation community has transcended the ‘paradigm wars’. There is a distinct shift towards mixed research methods as determined by the evaluation purpose and question. Evaluation theorists such as Huey T Chen, initial sceptics of such methods have since conceded that these do strengthen and further clarify programme theory.

SAMEAtalkers concluded by expressing support for the utilisation of mixed methods as well as showing an interest in learning far more about theory-based methods such as Realist Evaluation in the African context.


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