What is ‘holistic evaluation’?

I’ve been thinking recently about the idea of ‘holistic evaluation’, which you occasionally hear mentioned in lifelong learning. In assessment circles the term is used much more frequently, and appears to be used to describe an approach to assessing writing. The more general use of it to describe an approach to organisational or programme evaulation seems out to be quite rare, and e been my attempts to get to grips with it havrather unrevealing.

Quite a few authors seem happy to use the term in their titles and keywords without explaining what they mean by it. One author simply used the term in his title, with no further elaboration. So I was relieved to find one clear definition at least.

Scott Nicholson, in the context of library and information studies, defined it as follows:

In the context of measurement and evaluation, it means that a more thorough knowledge and understanding of a system can be gained from combining different measures than can be derived than taking those measures separately.

The implication is that this approach will ‘guide evaluators to the consideration of the entire system and not just the problem areas’. I’d be interested to know if there are other, possibly more ambitious statements and explorations of an idea that sounds initially promising, but is rather hard to pin down.

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