Optimizing Use in the Field of Program Evaluation by Integrating Learning from the Knowledge Field

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It has been almost 20 years since Shulha and Cousins (1997) published their seminal paper exploring evaluation use. The paper examined a decade, 1986 to 1996, of theory, practice, and research on evaluation use. Since that time there have been significant developments related to the phenomenon of evaluation use. Outside of evaluation a new and burgeoning field has focused on the use of research in practice and policy; in health care the term knowledge translation has been used and in social sciences knowledge mobilization. Despite the rapidly growing body of research from the knowledge field, the different terminology used in evaluation, health care, and the social sciences has created siloed bodies of knowledge, even when working on similar change processes. This may be one of the factors why the large body of literature on evaluation use has received little attention in health care and vice versa. The aim of this article is threefold: first, to examine the developments in evaluation use since Shulha and Cousins’s (1997) paper; second, to explore how the knowledge fields, focusing on knowledge translation and mobilization, can help to further refine and develop our understanding of use; and third, to imagine what future research that interweaves the knowledge field with the field of program evaluation might look like and how it has the potential to serve the contexts where this research would be conducted.

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