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How does evaluation help you understand whether a theory is applicable or useful

Nov 13th, 2014

Applying Kingdon's Theory to EvaluationHarvard Family Research Project (HFRP) is evaluating the Preschool for California's Children grantmaking program. Because the Preschool Program's strategy is based on Kingdon's theory, the evaluation also uses the elements of this theory as touchstones against which to examine the strategy's progress. We use a variety of methods to explore the following overarching questions about the grantmaking program's progress, momentum, and likelihood of success:

  • Are the problems that quality preschool can address recognized and perceived as pressing? What messages are audiences using to talk about the issue?

  • How are proposals promoting quality preschool perceived? Are they seen as technically feasible, fiscally viable, and in line with public and policymaker values?

  • How are politics factoring in? Is support for quality preschool perceived as being statewide and with broad constituency support? Who are recognized supporters and opponents of preschool policies?

  • What is the likelihood that streams will converge to open a policy window? Where is quality preschool on the general policy agenda? Where is it on the children's policy agenda? What is the likelihood of success and what forces are affecting that likelihood?

While there is no neat way to package the policy process to explain all of its complexity and nonlinearity, evaluations of advocacy and other promotional efforts that are based on theories of the policy process can help simplify the process to help evaluators intelligibly assess advocates' actions and their outcomes within it. While Kingdon's theory provides one way to do this, it is just one of many theories on the policy process. The Related Resources box on this page offers sources for other such theories.

1 Berry, F. S., & Berry, W. D. (1999). Innovation and diffusion models in policy research. In P. Sabatier (Ed.), Theories of the policy process (pp. 169–200). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
2 True, J. L., Jones, B. D., & Baumgartner, F. R. (1999). Punctuated-equilibrium theory: Explaining stability and change in American policymaker. In P. Sabatier (Ed.), Theories of the policy process (pp. 97–115). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
3 Kingdon, J. W. (1995). Agendas, alternatives, and public policies (2nd ed.). New York: Longman.


Nov 13th, 2014

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