Reporting: Variables and language-Variables

Theorymaker native speakers use the word “Variable” to talk about both language-Variables and the Variables they refer to. So you can say “number of visitors to the new centre” and mean either the language Variable which is part of your plan, your shared model of how things are going to work; you can think of this as a social phenomenon or as the paper-and-pencil (or more likely electronic) manifestation of this shared model. Alternatively you can mean the actual number of visitors, a Variable which you can observe or measure e.g. by going to the centre, without any knowledge of any plan or Theory.
If you are busy developing a Theory of Change, you won’t have time to worry about the difference. But when we come to look at how our evaluation Report is supposed to reflect various aspects of the project being evaluated, we will need to look at the way language-Variables refer to or “report” Variables in the rest of the world beyond the plan, and that is what we will do in this chapter. In this Chapter we will also explore how language-Variables are themselves Variables.

The report says 'The height of child X is ...' ((positive continuous numbers)) !Rule: some reporting or measurement Rule ensuring the report of the height reflects the actual height

 The height of child X is ((positive continuous numbers)) 


So this diagram shows a causal link between the actual height of the child and the report of its height, say on a school health record. This causal link will normally be a relatively involved one which we could probably “zoom in” on to identify other intervening Variables: we can call the whole thing “the reporting Mechanism”.

We already saw that language-Variables report or refer to Variables, Statements report Facts and that Theories (consisting of language-Variables and Statements) report Mechanisms. So in this sense Variables and language-Variables are two very different kinds of things.

But on the other hand, non-Theorymaker native speakers might be surprised to hear the following claim.

A language-Variable not only reports a Variable but is also itself a perfectly ordinary Variable.

When you think about it, of course it is.

Imagine I am measuring a child’s height and fill the number in on the child’s health form in the box marked “height”.

Each possible response is a Statement, one Level of a language-Variable. Loosely, we can call this language-Variable “the height as reported on the form” and say it reports the actual Variable, the height of the child. We call it a linguistic Variable simply because it actually uses language - as always, in a particular context; in this case an important part of the context is that the other people around me speak the same language and understand the health form, etc.

When we talk about the language-Variable, rather than using it, we can recognise it as a Variable just like the actual height is. So when the Level of the Variable child's height is 1m, the Level of the language-Variable report of child's height should be "1m".

The critical thing to understand is that under the right conditions, language-Variables can influence and be influenced by other Variables.