Empowering Change: David Fetterman on Using Evaluation to Build a Better World

Empowerment Evaluation

David Fetterman is a leading expert in empowerment evaluation, an approach that emphasizes collaboration, participation, and capacity building. He has written extensively on the topic, and his work has been used in a wide range of settings, including government agencies, non-profit organizations, and businesses.

David focuses on helping people evaluate their programs and initiatives. Moreover, he supports them in learning how to use data to improve their work. He considers empowerment evaluation essential for building a more just and equitable society. Undeniably, it is critical for program evaluation consultants to be familiar with this approach. Furthermore, David is known for his innovative work, commitment to social justice, and ability to make complex ideas accessible to a wide audience.

Understanding Empowerment Evaluation: A Shift in Traditional Evaluation Models

Empowerment evaluation revolutionized the way we view and conduct evaluations. David explains how this approach places the evaluated individuals in control, transforming them from subjects to leaders of the evaluation process. This shift uncovers real, often overlooked issues and ensures more sustainable results by fostering a sense of ownership and self-efficacy among the participants.

Integration of Empowerment Evaluation in Organizations: A Case Study

David discusses the seamless integration of empowerment evaluation within organizational structures. He highlights a case where a school system successfully internalized evaluation, making it a natural and credible part of their daily operations and program implementation. This integration allowed for timely and data-driven mid-course corrections, ensuring the longevity and effectiveness of the evaluative practices within the organization.

Empowering Communities through Participatory Evaluation: An Oregon Case Study

This episode further explores the impact of empowerment evaluation on community development. Fetterman shares an inspiring story from Oregon, where children armed with collected cigarette butts advocated for smoke-free policies. This participatory approach, Fetterman notes, empowers communities to set and achieve their own goals, fostering independent growth and development.

Microskills for Facilitating Empowerment Evaluation Meetings

He delves into the essential micro-skills required for effectively facilitating evaluation meetings. From personal and communication skills to technical advising, these micro-skills ensure that the evaluation process is respectful, inclusive, and constructive, laying the foundation for meaningful and lasting change.

Navigating Cultural and Political Realities in Project Facilitation

The episode also touches on the challenges of navigating diverse cultural and political landscapes in project facilitation. Specifically, David shares personal experiences, emphasizing the importance of listening and adapting to local perspectives to ensure the success and acceptance of the projects abroad.

Utilizing Evaluation and Empowerment for Positive Community Change

David highlights the transformative power of evaluation and empowerment in enacting positive community change. For instance, he shares a compelling story of a community member’s journey from opposition to advocacy for a teenage pregnancy prevention program. The story underscores the importance of understanding and addressing underlying concerns within the community.

Maintaining Self-Awareness and Reflection in Project Work

In the podcast, David also discusses the critical role of self-awareness and reflection in project work. He also shares insights on receiving and learning from feedback, working closely with community partners, and ensuring the focus remains on strengthening the community rather than asserting control.

Making Evaluation Principles Explicit for Project Success

He explains the significance of making evaluation principles explicit to ensure project success. He recounts a project experience in East Palo Alto, demonstrating how clear, established principles guided the project, aligning it with empowerment and inclusion goals despite various challenges.

Future Directions of Empowerment Evaluation: Combining Approaches

Looking toward the future, David discusses the evolving landscape of evaluation. He talks about integrating with other stakeholder involvement models. Moreover, he discusses the potential of empowerment evaluation in addressing diverse issues, including depression, further expanding its impact and relevance.

Exploring Alternative Approaches to Depression with Empowerment Evaluation

In conclusion, the episode explores the role of empowerment evaluation in offering alternative approaches to addressing depression. David discusses his most recent book, Empowerment Evaluation and Social Justice: Confronting the Culture of Silence. The book provides guidance on integrating empowerment evaluation into social justice work and existing evaluation plans, showcasing its versatility and far-reaching implications. David’s insights illuminate the transformative power of evaluation, offering a fresh perspective and practical guidance for individuals and organizations eager to drive meaningful and sustainable change.


0:00 Empowerment evaluation and its main goals
2:29 Empowering individuals to assess the performance of their programs
6:44 Integrating evaluation into organizational functioning
9:40 Evaluation thinking and its importance in decision-making
15:42 Micro-skills that assist with facilitating group discussions and decision-making
22:12 Teen pregnancy prevention program
33:19 Self-awareness and reflection in project management
36:55 Trust, communication, and project development
39:50 Empowerment evaluation principles and the importance of making principles explicit
44:46 The future of empowerment evaluation
49:06 Using empowerment evaluation when there is an existing evaluation plan or work plan

If you like this interview, check out my other interviews with evaluation leaders such as Michael Quinn Patton, Thomas Archibald, and more.


James Pann smiling at the camera, sitting in front of green trees

James Pann, Ph.D. is a Professor at Nova Southeast University and a highly experienced psychologist and evaluator with nearly 25 years of experience. He conducts research and evaluation projects with non-profit organizations in the fields of health, human services, and education, and has received funding from multiple government agencies.

James holds multiple degrees including a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, an M.S. Ed. from the University of Miami, and a BBA in Accounting from the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the host of the EvalNetwork podcast, a frequent conference presenter, and has published several peer-reviewed research articles and co-authored a book. James currently resides in Miami, Florida with his family and enjoys backpacking trips. Find out more about his work here.


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