The Power and Paradoxes of Evaluation Systems – Increasing Use but Impeding Change

Niklas Andreas Andersen


In recent years, evaluation systems have become increasingly embedded within public sector organisations. This trend of systematising and institutionalising evaluation activities has generally been perceived as a way to increase the use – and thus the power - of evaluations. However, this article argues that the power of evaluation systems is of a more complicated nature than merely increasing the uptake of evaluative knowledge. By applying the concept of “contestability differential” to a concrete example of an evaluation system within the Danish employment services, it is shown how the institutionalisation of an asymmetric power relation between evaluation system and evaluand creates inherent paradoxes.

The analysis shows how the strong contestability differential between evaluation system and evaluand – necessary for securing the influence of evaluation systems - hinges on the permanence, organisational embeddedness and epistemological fixation of such systems. However, these same elements simultaneously also limit the usefulness of the evaluative knowledge and the capability of the evaluation system to invoke radical change and development in the evaluand.

The article thus highlights an inherent paradox of evaluation systems in that they are simultaneously increasing and decreasing the power of evaluations.

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Scandinavian Journal of Public Administration

School of Public Administration, Box 712 - SE-405 30 Göteborg

ISSN: 2001-7405, E-ISSN: 2001-7413