Theory-based vs. theory-driven evaluation

“Donaldson and Lipsey (2006), Leeuw and Donaldson (2015), and Weiss (1997) noted that there is a great deal of confusion today about what is meant by theory-based or theory-driven evaluation, and the differences between using program theory and social science theory to guide evaluation efforts. For example, the newcomer to evaluation typically has a very difficult time sorting through a number of closely related or sometimes interchangeable terms such as theory-oriented evaluation, theory-based evaluation, theory-driven evaluation, program theory evaluation, intervening mechanism evaluation, theoretically relevant evaluation research, program theory, program logic, logic modeling, logframes, systems maps, and the like. Rather than trying to sort out this confusion, or attempt to define all of these terms and develop a new nomenclature, a rather broad definition is offered in this book in an attempt to be inclusive.

“Program Theory–Driven Evaluation Science is the systematic use of substantive knowledge about the phenomena under investigation and scientific methods to improve, to produce knowledge and feedback about, and to determine the merit, worth, and significance of evaluands such as social, educational, health, community, and organizational programs.”

– Donaldson, S. I. (2022, p. 9). Introduction to Theory-Driven Program Evaluation (2nd ed.). Routledge.