Foundations for Assessment

The Hierarchy of Evaluation and the Importance of Articulating a Theory of Change

Published in: Small Wars Journal, v. 9, no. 7, July 2013, p. 1-7

Posted on RAND.org on February 16, 2015

by Christopher Paul

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There is currently a great deal of (appropriate and needed) attention to assessment in a range of defense communities. Two foundational elements for planning and conducting assessments can benefit these communities: explicit theories of change and a hierarchy for evaluation. Having an explicit theory of change helps the assessor identify what to measure and supports an assessment structure that tests assumptions as hypotheses, which leads to improved operations, outcomes, and assessments. The hierarchy of evaluation described here includes five nested levels: (1) needs, (2) design and theory, (3) process and implementation, (4) outcomes/impact, and (5) cost-effectiveness. Rigorous assessments capture all of these levels and recognize their nested relationship, which helps the assessor match assessments to stakeholder needs and identify where improvements are needed when operations do not produce desired outcomes.

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