Developmental Evaluation

Introduction to Developmental Evaluation

Developmental Evaluation (DE) offers a powerful approach for tracking and assessing innovations in complex situations. It is a process that requires but also encourages stronger relationships between social innovators and key decision makers. If you find yourself involved in the very beginning or a changing phase of a project, DE might be something that could make a world of difference to the impact you can achieve. It can be used for a range of purposes: supporting program development, developing new and innovative models, adapting effective practice to local contexts and scaling innovations.

DE is very useful to initiatives that need support for on-going development, quick adaptation, and useful experimentation. DE helps these teams to be keenly sensitive to unintended results and side effects and to quickly use their own learning for more impact. The evaluator does this by infusing team discussions with good questions, thinking and data. Ideally in DE, the evaluator is considered, not separate, but a key member of a initiative or innovation team that is collaborating to imagine, design and test new approaches for significant change.

Dip into Developmental Evaluation

What are you learning as you try out this new idea? What does your learning mean? What does it tell us about whether we’re on the right track or not? How is the learning useful to you, to this project and to your stakeholders? These are the types of questions that are important to ask often and effectively when an idea or initiative is ‘in development’.

Developmental evaluation (DE) is a particular approach to assessing the growth and effects of new ideas and actions. It shines a light on learning that is useful and can enhance impact. This DE primer, by DE specialist Jamie Gamble, provides a good introduction, whether you’re an evaluator, a practitioner, a funder or anyone interested in effectively supporting new ideas for social change.

DE is a highly effective practice based on concepts such as systems thinking and complexity theory. It is not meant to replace traditional evaluation methods but rather to offer an alternative evaluation process tailored for emerging ideas and experimental initiatives. Considered the world’s expert on DE, Michael Quinn Patton writes;

“Developmental Evaluation fills one niche in the evaluation universe. It is one source of light in an evaluation sky rich with glimmering objects.”

Initiatives, and the evaluators they choose to work with, need to think carefully about the particular form of evaluation they want to employ and consider what would be the right fit for their needs and purposes. The SiG partnership is fortunate to work often with Michael Patton to offer presentations, education and training on Developmental Evaluation; he is also a guest lecturer in the Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation. In Michael’s latest book, one of the critical points he explores is the notion of “fit” by looking at 5 different types of DE.

In a 2013 webinar Michael introduces people to the world of DE and goes through the 5 types in greater detail.

SiG was delighted to host Michael Quinn Patton in 2010 for a speaking event to coincide with the release of his newest book, Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use. Click on the image below to listen to a podcast of the event.

*missing link to podcast*

Dive into Developmental Evaluation

The following resources offer a guide to the practice of DE. Like the initiatives it serves, DE is highly-context specific, so as you make your way through these, you might ask yourself what DE would look like in different contexts or what would it mean to bring evaluative thinking to the decision-making process of your project or innovation team.

Before undertaking a DE, it’s critical to consider not only if DE is the right fit for your initiative but also if your team, your partner organisations and your evaluator are ready to take DE approach. The DE Primer (see Dip) and the Practitioners Guide (see below) have useful tools for making quick assessments of the DE “readiness” of an organisation or initiative.

DE requires a highly skilled evaluator who understands complex environments and can work collaboratively within a team. Fortunately, we have a number of DE specialists in Canada; like, Marc Langlois and two of his DE colleagues who have recently written a guide for DE practitioners. This report, and the project it was based on, Youthscape, illustrates how different the DE roles can be from those associated with traditional evaluators.

SiG actively encourages funders and other decision makers to support DE, as part of creating conditions that encourage social innovation. Funders that are leading for significant social change need to promote evaluation techniques that can support those goals. Critical to any team, and particularly for funders, is the notion of accountability and what this requires when an emphasis is placed on adaptation and on-going development. Please read this document from the Centre for Evaluation Innovation on the benefits of “nudge.”

Note: A complete list of all SiG educational resources can be found in our publicly-available document library. We hope you’ve found this pathway to learning about Developmental Evaluation helpful.