In this article, a contrast is made between evaluation theory and practice. For this purpose, a typology is constructed that is based on seven authors and nine dimensions, and presents examples of evaluations in various policy areas in Spain. It is anticipated that there will be a mismatch between theory and practice. This can be explained by the difficulties government evaluators have finding the data, time and resources to apply the techniques and conduct the types of evaluation that scholars consider academically excellent. It can also be explained by the fact that government evaluators and decision-makers, in a national context where there is no pressure for experimental methods, choose to produce information on a broader set of measures that gives them insights on both program effectiveness and organizational performance, but does not inform them on whether there is a causal relation between government programs and observed effects. From the five examples of the practice of evaluation in Spain, it is observed that practical evaluation can provide a good 'picture' of the relative effectiveness and efficiency of government programs. It is also observed that evaluation results fit the type of information which program managers and stakeholders expect, increasing the chances of evaluation studies being effectively used. Finally, for these five examples, the evaluators performed very much as controllers would do in the private sector, where there is no concern for the type of causality academics try to find between program features and the consequences of programs. © 1998 SAGE Publication.