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This article addresses several issues related to values and the
evaluation of local economic development policies. First, it focuses on the
issue of goals in relation to the evaluation of local policies: What is one
trying to achieve with local economic development policies? Second, it
addresses connections between how goals are defined, what analysts choose
to evaluate, and the results of evaluations. Finally, the article suggests
an alternative approach to evaluating local development policies,
incorporating an explicit identification of values and a broader notion
of what is meant by local economic development.
The title of this article emanates from a seemingly simple question asked by a student in an urban studies class. During a discussion of various alternative local government structural arrangements and their relative advantages and disadvantages, an exasperated student wanted to "cut to the chase.... Just tell us which works best," he said. After an examination of the existing local economic development policy literature, practitioners and academics alike might ask a similar question. What works best? But best, of course, lies in the eye of the beholder and is inherently a function of values. Indeed, the notion of evaluation itself is intricately tied to values, however much policy analysts would like to believe otherwise. Regardless of efforts to portray evaluation as a systematic research process, it is, at its root, a method for imputing value. As the dictionary makes clear, the purpose of evaluation is "to find the amount, worth of, or to judge the value of."
That policy evaluation is inherently normative has long been understood in the evaluation literature, but it has not always been explicitly acknowledged in evaluating local economic development policy (Gunnell, 1968; Rein, 1976; Tribe, 1972). Them are numerous studies pointing to the success of policies and programs based on aggregate measures, like job creation or growth in tax base within a community; at the same time, other research points to the human consequences and costs of these development programs. If the purpose of evaluation is to determine whether programs are meeting goals, the question of which goals or whose goals becomes critical. At issue is whether economic development efforts have been successful, under what conditions, and for whose benefit. That the answers are related to value needs to be stressed more clearly.
Efforts to evaluate local economic development policy have become "a quagmire of good intentions and bad measures" (Clarke & Gaile, 1992, p. 193). A basic lack of agreement on measurement techniques and policy goals is compounded by the fact that good performance on traditional outcome measures, like jobs created, may not readily correspond with community development as distinct from economic growth (Eisenschitz, 1993). This lack of theory regarding local economic development opens the door for "misspecification" of the dependent variable (Warner, 1987). Thus, when evaluations fail to show results, is it because evaluators looked at industrial location rather than economic growth, or increased tax base valuation rather than improvement in business sales? Acceptance of standard measures of growth as success has led to an avoidance of critical assessment--that is, of course, economic development has to be "good." This "uncritical admiration, however, stifles a probing of the constitutive rules that structure our understandings of what economic development means and that delineate what actions and consequences qualify as valid and appropriate" (Beauregard, 1994, p. 267).
This article addresses several issues related to values and the evaluation of local economic development policies. First, it focuses on the issue of goals in relation to the evaluation of local economic development policies: What is one trying to achieve with local economic development policies? What are the implications of the existence of different goal frameworks for policy evaluation? Does the use of differing goal frameworks have implications for what one expects from the expenditure of public dollars on development? Second, it addresses connections between how goals are defined, what analysts choose to evaluate, and the results of the evaluation. In short, it addresses the reality that often what one expects or desires to find becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it frames the design of the evaluation itself. Where such values and desires come from and how they are created are beyond the scope of the current discussion (Fasenfest, Ciancanelli, & Reese, in press). Again, the focus is on the interplay between values and the evaluation of local economic development policies. Finally, the article suggests an alternative approach to evaluating local development policies that rests on an explicit identification of values within the evaluation process.
IDENTIFYING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT GOALS
What are the goals of economic development? Policy evaluation assumes that goals drive the selection of economic development techniques or mechanisms. In other words, the presumption is that policy makers agree on a goal or set of goals, choose policies accordingly, and then implement those policies. The task of the analyst is to determine the extent to which policies are meeting stated goals. Indeed, recent work by Pagano and Bowman (1995) suggests that local leaders establish a "vision" of the community based on "its history, its place in its hierarchy of cities, and its aspirations to change" (pp. 3-4). This vision, then, serves as a basis for selecting among economic development incentives or, indeed, whether economic development should be pursued at all. However, other research has suggested that the task of goal identification is much more problematic from the start. Beaumont and Hovey (1985) have maintained that the lack of a formal theory of economic development results in a situation whereby "state and local economic development strategies evolve incrementally without [any) underlying economic theory except that more jobs are good and less jobs are bad" (p. 328). Bingham and Blair (1984) have suggested that much urban economic development policy has been "piecemeal," reducing the impact and limiting the attainment of stated goals. And Kirby (1995) has pointed to a general absence of theoretical frameworks in the community development literature guiding local policy choices. Such research seems to suggest that, even given an overriding vision, absent a general theory of economic development, any connection between policy and goals is going to be accidental at best and unlikely at worst.
What works best for local economic development rests first on a specification of the term works. What is the locality trying to achieve? The term economic development has always been somewhat problematic, because scholars and practitioners have used it to mean different things: economic processes, development activities, and an economic outcome. However, the economic part of the concept has traditionally been used in a private, capital-investment, business-growth sense. There has also been an implicit understanding that
the modifier economic is an ideological statement meant to deflect
attention from the inherently political nature of economic development
(regardless of whether government is actually involved) and to act as a
buffer (available when needed) between key investors and elected officials
and government bureaucrats who might introduce the scrutiny and
accountability of a democratic society. (Beauregard, 1994, p. 269)
The meaning of the term development is also open to interpretation: Does it simply imply economic growth, or does it require some larger systematic change--that is, development? Herrick and Kindleberger (1983) employ an analogy to the human organism to describe the difference between growth and development: "Growth involves changes in overall aggregates such as height or weight, while development includes changes in functional capacities--physical coordination, learning …