Program Evaluation and Counseling Research.

 The counseling profession has its origins in the scientist-practitioner framework. Being a scientist-practitioner in the counseling field means that we value the connection between science and practice, especially as it is cultivated in counselor preparation programs (Blair, 2010). The origins of program evaluation and research come from the same traditions of social science research, emphasizing the importance of the scientist-practitioner who is interested in making evidence-based decisions (Astramovich & Corker, 2007; Blair, 2010; Dimmitt, 2010; Fitzpatrick, Sanders, & Worthen, 2004). Despite this common foundation, a number of important differences between program ¬evaluation and research have been described in the literature. The first difference between program evaluation and counseling research relates to the purposes of each. There are a variety of definitions of evaluation in the literature, yet there is no uniformly agreed-upon definition of what the term means (Fitzpatrick et al., 2004). The common denominator among these definitions is that program evaluation seeks to demonstrate the value or worth of an intervention or a program within a certain, identified context. As noted by Fitzpatrick and colleagues (2004), “the primary purpose of program evaluation is determining merit and worth because it emphasizes the valuing component of evaluation . . .” (pp. 13–14). In short, evaluations provide the basis for making judgments about the value of programs. Dimmitt (2010), writing about the importance of evaluating school counseling programs, argued that “the purpose of evaluation is to gather and analyze information about an intervention or program in an orderly and planful way to make decisions” about their value (p. 45). Program evaluators are focused on describing the elements, outcomes, and value of programs. By contrast, the primary purpose of research is to develop new knowledge or uncover and ¬validate existing knowledge for a discipline or field of study. Thus, researchers are primarily concerned about reaching conclusions that lead to the creation of new knowledge or expand current ideas. A second critical difference between program evaluation and research has to do with the locus of control of the investigation. The control of a program evaluation is dispersed among a larger audience of stakeholders. Because many different groups may have a stake in the effectiveness and value of a particular counseling program, all those who have an interest in the scope and focus of the program, the stakeholders, will have an interest in the outcome of the evaluation. In the case of research, the control of the investigation rests solely with the primary investigator, that is, the individual who is responsible for designing and conducting the experiment. Other essential differences between program evaluation and research are the importance of context and satisfactoriness criteria that help determine the degree to which the results can be applied to a wider audience. Program evaluators are interested only in describing the effects of a particular program and assigning value to their findings. Because evaluation is site specific, the generalizability of the results of the evaluation are not important because the focus of concern is whether what is being done is working with the clientele being served (Dimmitt, 2010). From this perspective, the primary criteria used to determine the suitability of a program evaluation include (Fitzpatrick et al., 2004): • Adequacy (i.e., Do the results provide an accurate description of the program?) • Utility (i.e., Do the results provide users with practical information that can be easily used?) • Feasibility (i.e., Are the results and recommendations realistic and achievable?) • Propriety (i.e., Was the evaluation conducted in an ethically appropriate manner?) Conversely, in the case of most quantitative research, it is important for the researcher to demonstrate that the results of an experiment can be extended or generalized from a sample to the larger group, or population. For researchers who are utilizing qualitative methods, the purpose is to explore, describe, or explain a phenomenon in detail. By paying careful attention to the internal and external validity considerations of the experiment, the researcher is able to make such claims. A summary of four of the most important differences between program evaluation and -counseling research is provided in Box 16.1. Box 16.1 Comparing Program Evaluation and Counseling Research Factor Evaluation Research Purpose Make judgments Create new knowledge Control Stakeholders Investigator/researcher