Transforming Knowledge into Change

Evaluation for the Way We Work

Michael Quinn Patton describes the developmental evaluation approach. Here is an excerpt from the article:

"Social science has proven especially inept in offering solutions for the great problems of our time—hunger, violence, poverty, hatred. There is a pressing need to make headway with these large challenges and push the boundaries of social innovation to make real progress. The very possibility articulated in the idea of making a major difference in the world ought to incorporate a commitment to not only bring about significant social change, but also think deeply about, evaluate, and learn from social innovation as the idea and process develops. However, because evaluation typically carries connotations of narrowly measuring predetermined outcomes achieved through a linear cause-effect intervention, we want to operationalize evaluative thinking in support of social innovation through an approach we call developmental evaluation. Developmental evaluation is designed to be congruent with and nurture developmental, emergent, innovative, and transformative processes.

Helping people learn to think evaluatively can make a more enduring impact from an evaluation than use of specific findings generated in that same evaluation. Findings have a very short ‘half life’—to use a physical science metaphor. They deteriorate very quickly as the world changes rapidly. In contrast, learning to think and act evaluatively can have an ongoing impact. The experience of being involved in an evaluation, then, for those actually involved, can have a lasting impact on how they think, on their openness to reality-testing, on how they view the things they do, and on their capacity to engage in innovative processes.

Not all forms of evaluation are helpful. Indeed, many forms of evaluation are the enemy of social innovation. This distinction is especially important at a time when funders are demanding accountability and shouting the virtues of “evidence-based” or “science-based” practice. The right purpose and goal of evaluation should be to get social innovators who are, often by definition, ahead of the evidence and in front of the science, to use tools like developmental evaluation to have ongoing impact and disseminate what they are learning. There are a few specific contrasts between traditional and more developmental forms of evaluation that are worth reviewing (see table on page 30)." 


Bibliographic Details
Author Michael Quinn Patton
Publisher Nonprofit Quarterly
Publication Date March 21, 2006
Publication City
Publication Work
Resource Type
Resource Focus
Submitted to Point K May 1, 2013 - 3:57pm

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