Postmodernism comes to program evaluation. A critical review of Guba and Lincoln's fourth generation evaluation

Daniel B. Fishman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Scopus citations


Guba and Lincoln's recent book, Fourth Generation Evaluation, is a radical critique of the modernist, positivist foundation of traditional program evaluation, which the authors differentiate into three historical stages or "generations. "Based upon their analysis, these highly esteemed authors propose a fundamental redefinition and restructuring of the whole evaluation field. In order to deal adequately with the deep and far-reaching implications of their proposals, this review has been extended to a full article length. The main focus of the book is an argument to replace traditional evaluation with "fourth generation evaluation, " which is based on the post-modernist epistemology of constructivism. In polar contrast to positivism's assumption that the "true" nature of external reality is discoverable through the scientific method, constructivism assumes that there are only alternative, subjective constructions of reality produced by different individuals. Therefore, instead of the positivist role of measuring a program's goal attainment in scientific, quantitative ways, the role of the program evaluator becomes one of facilitating interpretive dialogue among a wide variety of a program's stakeholders. The objective of the dialogue is to attain consensus among the stakeholders upon an emergent construction of the program's value and outcome. The present examination of Guba and Lincoln's book begins with general background, proceeds to a detailed summary of their conceptual framework, and ends with a critical assessment of their views.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-270
Number of pages8
JournalEvaluation and Program Planning
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1992

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Social Psychology
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Strategy and Management
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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