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The Implementation Of English Social Policy

3667 words - 15 pages

The evaluation of social policy began in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s, and reached the UK by the early 1970s (Everitt and Hardiker 1996:42-43) by which time British social policy was focused on Beveridge's 'Welfare State' (Jones 1991:134). The term 'evaluation' has many definitions (Alkin 1990:81-3), but for the purposes of this essay, I will use Patton's broad definition of evaluation as 'any effort to increase human effectiveness through systematic data-based inquiry' (1990:11). Evaluation research differs from traditional research because it doesn't just collect data to increase knowledge, but also to support recommendations for action (Patton 1986:14).The quantitative approach to ...view middle of the document...

The quantitative approach uses quantitative data, e.g. census data, test scores, and surveys requiring the answers to closed-ended or scaled questions (Torres, Preskill and Piontek 1996:97), which are commonly analysed using statistical formulae. The qualitative approach also uses some quantitative data, together with qualitative data which may include observation, interviews, focus groups, historical documents and videotaping (ibid:97); their analysis is not at all formulaic (Patton 1990:372). These approaches are encompassed within different epistemological frameworks: the quantitative approach belongs to a positivist epistemology (Finch 1986:8) which comes from traditional hypothetico-deductive science (Patton 1986:182), while the qualitative approach belongs to an interpretivist epistemology which 'emphasizes understanding the meaning of the social world from the perspective of the actor ' (Finch 1986:10) and stems from social science, particularly anthropological fieldwork (Patton 1986:182).Early evaluation used the quantitative approach almost exclusively (House 1993:4). Pinker suggested that data for 'monitoring progress, measuring utilization and assessing the effectiveness of services' should mostly be collected from censuses (1976:195). He also said that 'complementary data' would be needed for 'the evaluation of changing consumer preferences' (ibid:196), which seems like a nod towards qualitative data, but he didn't elaborate. Ten years later, Finch said that qualitative approaches played at best a minor part in the study of social policy (1986:1). After another decade, however, the qualitative approach had come to share the stage: Torres, Preskill and Piontek were able to assert with confidence that 'the combination of quantitative and qualitative data collection methods enhances the utility and accuracy of evaluations by capturing a more complete portrayal of events and participants' (1996:97).The qualitative approach to evaluating the implementation of social policy grew from dissatisfaction with the incomplete and inaccurate picture offered by the quantitative approach. Feminist theorists identified bias in government statistics, such as those defining the position of an entire family by the occupation of the male 'head of household', which obscured the position of women (Pascall 1997:8). Feminists were also unhappy with the survey method: while survey research has provided some important and useful knowledge, it has also obscured much of women's experience 'in subtle but serious ways' (Graham 1983:146). There are also more general reasons why the survey method is inadequate for evaluating social policy: it can provide a snapshot of a situation, but not of the processes which led to that situation or the context in which that situation exists (Finch 1986:166). Further, the formulation of surveys takes place entirely outside the research context, and completing surveys with participants is an abnormal social interaction, so the...

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