Why policymakers need program evaluation

Sydney Duder establishes professorship for program evaluation at the Max Bell School

Climate change, gun violence, or homelessness – name an environmental, economic or social issue and there is likely a program being run to solve it. But what if more effective interventions are possible? Or if the program has no impact on the problem?

For Dr. Sydney Duder - recently retired professor from McGill’s School of Social Work – asking these types of questions about programs is essential.

And it’s this desire for critical research to inform policymakers’ decisions that is behind her generous donation to the Max Bell School of Public Policy and the creation of a professorship in program evaluation.

“Program evaluation in a way has the wrong name. Because the important thing is the problem,” she mused in a recent interview with the Max Bell School.

Dr. Duder’s love for program evaluation goes back a few decades. She started teaching at McGill in 1972 – where she also completed her BSc, MSW and PhD degrees. She was drawn to program evaluation because of its focus on problems – and solving them.

“As far as I'm concerned program evaluation should viewed as a problem-solving process. And I think the important thing is to just discover problems that are causing the world trouble and discover ways of solving the problems,” she emphasized.

Dr. Duder believes that far too often the people delivering programs – whether in government, an NGO, or a service-delivery agency - fall in love with the idea of a program before doing the proper analysis of figuring out whether it will be both effective and pass a cost-benefit test.

“The kinds of things the government does are so often perfectly silly. If they have decent program evaluation, they wouldn't be quite so silly,” she said.

For Dr. Duder, it is a question of fairly distributing and using resources. In her mind, if you put on a program, you are taking resources from some people and giving them to other people.

“It’s not easy to do. But you'd like to be able to show that it costs less to put on the program than the problem is costing you,” she added.

In the end, you have to be critical and ask the question: “Is this improving welfare or not improving welfare,” she concluded.

The Max Bell School of Public Policy Policy is currently reviewing applications for the Sydney Duder Professorship in Program Evaluation for the 2020/21 academic year. The professor, scholar, or senior policy practitioner selected will teach program evaluation in the School’s Master of Public Policy (MPP) program in spring 2021 and participate in the academic activities of the School including mentoring students, developing research, and delivering public lectures.

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