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[Excerpt] The growth of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) has been one of the most significant developments in the U.S. workplace in the past twenty-five years. There is a significant and growing body of research tracking the development of ADR in U.S. employment relations, its effects on organizations and workers, and its implications for the community of neutrals and the providers of neutral services (Lipsky, Seeber, and Fincher 2003; Seeber and Lipsky 2006; Bingham and Chachere 1999; Bingham 2004; Colvin et al. 2006; Lewin 2004). The intense debates that have arisen over the desirability of ADR have caused both practitioners and researchers to recognize the need for the evaluation of all types of ADR programs, including those mandated by the courts, statutes, and other public policies and those established by private sector organizations (Seeber, Schmidle, and Smith 2001; Lipsky and Seeber 2006; Bingham 2004).

The authors of this paper have conducted numerous evaluations of ADR programs in both the public and private sectors, and it has been our experience that the desire of the evaluators and the program sponsors to have an impartial and objective evaluation of a program has often been frustrated by political considerations. This paper will focus on the politics of the evaluation of ADR systems and programs. We maintain that there are three types of political factors affecting ADR programs: One type involves ideological and policy debates about the desirability of ADR; a second type involves political factors within an organization (whether private or public) that affect the adoption, implementation, and maintenance of an ADR program; and the third type is the political struggle that can sometimes emerge between the managers and practitioners who sponsor ADR programs and the academics and consultants who evaluate them. Here we concentrate particularly on the differences that arise between program sponsors and outside evaluators. Academic evaluators, for example, value the so-called purity of their research and strive to conduct evaluations consistent with accepted social science standards; program sponsors and administrators have evaluation objectives that are much more instrumental and pragmatic. All parties in an evaluation may very well have legitimate objectives, but political differences can arise out of the incompatibility of those objectives, an incompatibility that is often the consequence of the "clash of cultures" between academics and practitioners.

In our view, political factors will invariably influence program evaluation. It is clear that some of the political differences that affect the evaluation of ADR programs (for example, ideological debates) are beyond the control of either the program sponsors and administrators or the evaluators. But there are other political factors that the parties can potentially manage, or at least influence. On the one hand, political differences can threaten the integrity of an evaluation. On the other hand, not all political factors have negative consequences for an evaluation. The trick for sponsors and evaluators alike is, first, to recognize the political factors they can control and, second, to distinguish between those that have positive effects on the evaluation and those that have negative effects.


Suggested Citation
Lipsky, D. B., Seeber, R. L., Avgar, A. C., & Scanza, R. M. (2007). Managing the politics of evaluation: Lessons from the evaluation of ADR programs [Electronic version]. Proceedings of the Fifty-Ninth Annual Meeting of the Labor and Employment Relations Association, 116-129.

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© Labor and Employment Relations Association. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.