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Explaining the measurement and evaluation stasis: A thought experiment and a note on functional stupidity

Howard Nothhaft (University of Lund, Campus Helsingborg, Helsingborg, Sweden)
Hanna Stensson (More PR, Göteborg, Sweden)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 25 July 2019

Issue publication date: 21 August 2019




The purpose of this paper is to explain the “evaluation deadlock” or “stasis” diagnosed by many authors. The explanation relies on a thought experiment.


The paper is conceptual and builds on a thought experiment inspired by qualitative research such as interviews with communication consultants in Sweden. It makes use of principal–agent theory and Akerlof’s theory of lemon markets.


A plausible explanation for the evaluation stasis requires consideration of practitioners’ self-interest as businesspeople. The deadlock is explained by an anomaly in practitioner populations and passive or active but covert resistance. If the long-time neglect of measurement and evaluation has led to expectation inflation and overpromising, even well-performing actors might shy away from rigorous measurement and evaluation practices in their own mandates, since they fear being measured against promotional, not realistic standards. At the same time, on the level of industry discourse, these practitioners would still advocate for measurement and evaluation in principle, so as to avoid the suspicion of underperformance.

Research limitations/implications

The paper suggests an explanation for further empirical investigation. It does not attempt to demonstrate anything else than that the suggestion is plausible and that it warrants further investigation.

Practical implications

The scientific community engaged in the measurement and evaluation debate appears puzzled by the discrepancy between practitioners’ words and actions. The authors hope that the paper contributes to a more realistic and thus more constructive dialogue between practitioners and academics in the measurement and evaluation debate.


Inspired by Alvesson and Spicer’s concept of functional stupidity, the paper argues that attempts to explain the evaluation stasis have been marked by circumspection and narrowness. At present, explanations for the evaluation stasis tend to focus on lack of knowledge or inadequate systems or frameworks. The paper offers a more comprehensive explanation.



Nothhaft, H. and Stensson, H. (2019), "Explaining the measurement and evaluation stasis: A thought experiment and a note on functional stupidity", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 213-227.



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