Monash University
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Professionalisation of evaluation in Australia

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posted on 2017-02-27, 03:48 authored by Reed, Cheryl Eleanor
Much of the sociological literature on professions is based on the traditional professions that emerged in the nineteenth century in response to the Industrial Revolution. This Portfolio uses literature from the sociology of professions to examine evaluation as a recently emerged area of work. The implications of this are considered for the further professionalisation of the practice of evaluation and contribution to our understanding of the sociology of professions. Research Stage One This Paper considers four theoretical approaches that have made a significant contribution to the sociology of professions literature. First, the work of the social commentator Herbert Spencer (1896) and his social Darwinian approach is reviewed. Spencer’s work led to the development of the second approach to be considered, trait theory (Chitty, 1997; Flexner, 1915, reprinted 2001; Greenwood, 1957, 1972). Both of these approaches come from within the structural functionalist school of sociology. In response to trait theory and its focus on the attributes of professions that developed under very specific social conditions, feminist approaches and the professional project concept emerged from the symbolic-internationalist school of sociology (Larson, 1977; Maack, 1997; Macdonald, 1995). While structural functionalists are concerned with how professions function in society, symbolic-internationalists are concerned with how occupations are granted professional status by society. This paper considers these different approaches and develops a pluralist model of professionalisation. This approach is then used in Paper 3 to explore the professionalisation of the practice of evaluation and to suggest how this could be further developed in the future. Research Stage Two In the major western economies of the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, evaluation emerged as a distinct area of work in the 1970s as a result of the growth of government spending on social services and a need for public accountability. Evaluation has been described as a transdiscipline that serves practitioners from other disciplines (Scriven, 2013) and a metaprofession that draws practitioners from other professions to its workforce (Australasian Evaluation Society, 2013). It is generally accepted that evaluation is not a profession, but is professionalising (Canadian Evaluation Society, 2004; Cousins & Aubry, 2006). Evaluation offers an opportunity to apply learnings from the sociology of professions literature to understand the process of professionalisation in the modern era and consider the implications of this for both the future professionalisation of evaluation and the theoretical base of the sociology of professions. The recent history of evaluation demonstrates a continued process of professionalisation through the establishment of a need for services, the development of a community of practice, the establishment of ethics and development of evaluation specific theories and methods. The process of professionalisation of the practice of evaluation will be considered in Paper 3, using the model developed in Paper 1. Research Stage Three Most of the discourse on sociology of professions is derived from research on two professions – doctors and lawyers (Torstendahl, 1990b). While this gap in research has begun to be addressed in recent years with studies on the professionalisation of other groups such as nurses (Chua & Clegg, 1990; Johannisson & Sundin, 2007), librarians (Maack, 1997; Sundin & Hedman, 2004), engineers (Ressler, 2011) and others, there remains an opportunity to further contribute to the growing body of knowledge and theory of professions in general and professionalisation in different social contexts in particular. Similarly, the early studies in sociology of professions were based on initial research in the United Kingdom and the United States, then applied to continental Europe and elsewhere, not as a specific-type but as an ideal-type (Torstendahl, 1990b). This limited the inclusion of many knowledge-based occupations in the field of study (Maack, 1997) and disregarded the impact of the state on the development of professions (Torstendahl, 1990a). Using the approach developed in Paper 1, which incorporates themes from trait theory and the professional project, this final research stage examines the professionalisation of evaluation since the 1980s, when the first associations were established in evaluation. These associations established academic journals, professional development programs, international conferences and ethical guidelines for members. Evaluation has developed specific methods and is developing its own theories. The weaknesses of the professionalisation of evaluation generally relate to a lack of occupational closure: no qualifications and experience are required to work as an evaluator and evaluation associations accept non-evaluators as full members. Canada is the only country to have in place an evaluation credentialing system. The Canadian model, led by the Treasury Board of Canada, involves a partnership between educational providers, the Canadian Evaluation Association and the Treasury Board’s Centre for Evaluation Excellence in order to develop and administer a voluntary evaluator credentialing system (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 2012a, 2012b). Comparison of the Canadian model with the approach taken in Australia demonstrates the important role of government as the main purchaser of evaluation in generating market pressure for improved quality. The Canadian model also demonstrates the importance of engagement with the educational sector to ensure an academic pathway into evaluation with a consistent national curriculum. While at a practical level this research suggests options to improve the professionalisation of the practice of evaluation in Australia, at a theoretical level the research demonstrates how trait theory and the professional project can be integrated in a pluralist model to advance the professionalisation of an occupation. Furthermore, an occupation, by establishing a deliberate plan for professionalisation that includes goals (or objective traits) linked to outputs and outcomes (or subjective traits), develops a framework to test the logic of the relationships within the model. This resolves the issue of untested causal assumptions that have been one of the main limitations of trait theory. This approach takes a continuous improvement perspective, where professionalisation is both an objective and a process. The award of the title profession is controlled by public opinion on the merit and achievements of the goals of the occupation through this process of professionalisation.


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O’Neill Deidre

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Business and Economics

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