Observation refers to a data collection strategy in evaluation that relies on first-hand and eyewitness experiences of places, activities, events, and so on. Observations can be formal (such as with the use of preordinate protocols or checklists) or informal (describing the sense of having been there), as well as participant (the observer assumes some role relevant to that social context) or nonparticipant (such as observation through a one-way mirror or noninteractively). Reports of observations are most useful when they are low inference; that is, more descriptive and less evaluative. The quality of observation is presumed to improve with prolonged periods of time.

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