Evaluation Coding

Johnny Saldana (2009, p.3) suggests that a code in qualitative research “is most often a word or short phrase that … assigns a summative, salient, essence-capturing … attribute for a portion of language-based or visual data. The data can consist of interview transcripts, … field notes, journals, documents, literature, artifacts, photographs, video, websites, email correspondence and so on. The portion of data to be coded … can range in magnitude from a single word to … an entire page of text …“.

In the model below, Saldana (2009, Fig 1.1) shows that codes can be categorised and that categories can be mapped into themes or concepts and fitted within theory. As drawn by Saldana, the model shows an inductive process where theory is developed from code. A deductive process is equally valid, whereby code is developed from theory.


Johnny Saldana (2009, p.97) draws on Rallis & Rossman to describe evaluation coding as “the application of non-quantitative codes onto qualitative data that assign judgements about the merit and worth of programs or policy (Rallis & Rossman, 2003, p.492)“.

He draws on Patton to say that program evaluation is “the systematic collection of information about the activities, characteristics and outcomes of programs to make judgements about the program, improve program effectiveness and/or inform decisions about future programming. Policies, organisations and personnel can also be evaluated (Patton, 2002, p.10)“.

To Rallis & Rossman, evaluation data describe, compare and predict. Description focuses on patterned observations or participant responses of attributes and details that assess quality. Comparison explores how the program measures up to a standrd or ideal. Prediction provides recommendations for change, if needed, and how those changes might be implemented.” (Saldana, 2009, p.97) (my emphasis)

Saldana says (p.98) that evaluation coding is “appropriate for policy, critical, action, organizational, and (of course) evaluation studies, particulary across multiple sites and extended periods of time“. He suggests that other coding methods “can be applied to or supplement evaluation coding” and lists magnitude coding, descriptive coding, values coding and grounded theory coding methods for this purpose. He draws on Pitman & Maxwell to observe that evaluation coding “is also customised for specific studies since the coding system must also reflect the questions that initiated and structured the evaluation in the first place (Pitman & Maxwell, 1992, p.765)“.

Finally, Saldana (p.101) quotes Stake to note that “all evaluation studies are case studies (Stake, 1995, p.95)

PATTON, M. Q. 2002. Qualitative research and evaluation methods, Sage Publications, Inc.
PITMAN, M. A. & MAXWELL, J. A. 1992. Qualitative approaches to evaluation: Models and methods. The handbook of qualitative research in education, 729, 770.
RALLIS, S.E and GROSSMAN, G.B. 2003. Mixed methods in evaluation contexts: a pragmatic framework. Handbook of Mixed methods in social & behavioral context, Eds. A. Tashakori a Ch. Tedllie. London: Sage.
SALDAÑA, J. 2009. The coding manual for qualitative researchers, Sage Publications Ltd.
YIN, R. K. 2009. Case study research: Design and methods, Sage publications, INC.
STAKE, R. E. 1995. The art of case study research, Sage Publications, Inc.