What would be a proper term for a type of evaluation which is performed "from the outside" of a system (i.e., without inspecting the internals of the system)? I would also like to know the opposite term, that is, when it is necessary to examine the "interior" of a system for performing an evaluation.

I want the term to be as general as possible, since I'm trying to use it for classifying measurement processes of a system. From an abstract point of view, when measuring some aspect of such system, one option is to measure it without checking the "inside" (i.e, "from the outside"), while the other option would be to actually look inside the system. We can assume that the system is opaque, in the sense that external observations does not provide a view of the inside (as in the X-rays example from the comments).

The particular context is the evaluation or measurement of IT service providers. These entities are opaque since it is usually not possible for an external evaluator to inspect the internal workings of these providers, but only to perform observations on their services. On the contrary, when this evaluator is granted access to inside the provider, as in the case of an audit, then the evaluation can be done from the inside. Said that, I would like a term as general as possible, since I want to make a general classification of measurement and evaluation procedures.

It reminds me of the terms "black/white-box", but I would prefer a more "formal" term. "Internal/external" is also an option, but for me that would mean examining the interior vs the surroundings.

  • Invasive vs non-invasive? Surface vs interior? You also might just describe what you're examining: "examining the plane's propeller" vs "examining the plane's engine", for example. Feb 10, 2015 at 14:14
  • @KevinWorkman I have updated the answer. Anyway, I would like a term as general as possible.
    – cygnusv
    Feb 10, 2015 at 14:26
  • Would top-down vs bottom-up analisys fit your context?
    – user66974
    Feb 10, 2015 at 14:28
  • @Josh61 I don't think so...In this context, "top-down" would mean to analyze first the more abstract and high-level properties and progressively being more concrete, while "bottom-up" is the opposite.
    – cygnusv
    Feb 10, 2015 at 14:31
  • 4
    What makes 'black-box' and 'white-box' too informal for you? Up until the last paragraph your question reads like an explanation of these well known testing terms.
    – mike32
    Feb 10, 2015 at 15:19

4 Answers 4


You might describe the external examination as superficial, and the interior examination as comprehensive. A superficial examination is an examination of the surface, a comprehensive one goes in depth.


The consultants I work for call this an outside-in analysis or evaluation. An example would be evaluating a company's financial situation on the basis of publicly available information only.


If you are willing to speak figuratively, you could refer to a "drive-by" evaluation. Surveyors and valuers in the UK refer to a "drive-by valuation", which indicates that they have conducted only a cursory external inspection of the relevant property.


I've been searching for a pair of terms for this as well which will make sense to a general readership. Here are the best ones I've come up with so far.

  1. conceptual vs procedural, or vs operational (paired this way, these terms are not that familiar to most people; involves looking at an operation from a static perspective vs how it's done step-by-step )
  2. top-down vs bottom-up (from a post above; nice; folks will understand this pair of terms)
  3. abstract vs concrete (familiar to many; they will know what it means)
  4. evaluative vs explanatory (an unfamiliar pairing, but it clearly communicates what it means)
  5. descriptive vs explanatory (the later Wittgenstein spent time discussing description vs explanation; not sure it can connect immediately with the general public but it has a history in the philosophy of science)
  6. doer vs viewer (applies to inside/outside if the subject is a person experiencing the doing of something vs that person being watched)

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