Evaluation of Public Interventions in a Complex Environment: Developing Generalizable Knowledge from Case Studies
Purpose: In the debate on how to increase the effectiveness of public policy instruments, learning- oriented evaluation attracts considerable attention. The focus of interest has been shifted from 'what' questions to 'why' and 'how' questions ( i.e. instead of asking what works/does not work we want to know why a particular public intervention works/ does not work). However, implementing public interventions in a complex environment which is characterised by feedback loops, adaptation by boththose delivering and those receiving the intervention does not allow to establish universal truths that apply anywhere, anytime. On the contrary, context matters and human agency cannot be taken for granted. Thus, we are more specific in our inquiry asking 'what works for whom in what circumstances'(the stance of the realistic evaluation approach). Case studies which have the explanatory power, do not necessary have to serve for one-off, discrete evaluation. The aim of this article is to address the dilemma of developing generalizable knowledge from case study research and on the basis of the extant evaluation literature, suggest approaches to enhance its external validity to enable the middle-ranged theories formulation, i.e. 'law-like'- regularities delimited in time and space, which can be used for learning beyond a particular case. Methodology: The article has been written following a careful review of leading literature in the subject as well as a review of evaluation reports from the Science and Innovation Policy Evaluations Repository (the SIPER database) to provide insights into evaluation practice.Findings: A case study approach is well recognised in evaluation practice in the field of research, development and innovation, however its full potential has not been exploited in terms of drawing lessons for future public interventions.Originality/value: Given the complexity surrounding numerous public interventions the article suggests a wider utilisation of case study approach in evaluation along with the techniques to enhance the generalisability of knowledge gained from case study research.(original abstract)
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