Supermini course: developmental evaluation in complex systems

October 31, 2018

What is developmental evaluation and why is it often a more appropriate method for systems innovators than traditional formative and summative methods? This supermini course walks you through the basics and provides you with resources for further exploration.

  1. What are complex problems and systems? Even if you’re familiar with complexity thinking, module  one of this learning resource from the University of Waterloo is a useful review. For a quick review, focus on videos 1.1 (06:51 minutes) and 1.7 (08:20 minutes).
  2. Why do we need to think about tools differently in complex systems? We deal with different types of systems: simple, complicated, complex, and even chaotic. Using his Cynefin framework, David Snowden explains (08:37 minutes).
  3. Specifically, why are traditional evaluation approaches sometimes not appropriate in complex contexts? Michael Quinn Patton, the father of developmental evaluation, explains in this short article, Evaluation for the Way We Work.
  4. Okay – well, what is developmental evaluation exactly? Better Evaluation (a highly-recommended resource hub) offers a definition and description here. This page offers numerous follow-up links to materials that will take you much deeper if you want to explore more. In addition to this evaluator’s definition, check out this short article from Censemaking which uses the metaphor of a travel metaphor to explain. Says the author, “. . . as Developmental Evaluators and program implementation leaders, we are creating conditions to learn en route to a general destination, but without a clear path and an open mind towards what might unfold.” This kind of openness and learning is essential in complex and emergent situations.
  5. But – we have accepted and expected evaluation methodologies already. What is the case for using developmental evaluation? FSG makes the case here.
  6. How can we get started with developmental evaluation? A Developmental Evaluation Primer is a great starting point. You can download it here in English, or here in French.
  7. Where can we find courses or webinars online to start building our developmental evaluation skills? Tamarack Institute has numerous resources in its learning centre. Just go to the main page and search “evaluation, webinar”. Innoweave also offers webinars and modules. And both organisations regularly offer free webinars which you’ll be informed of if you sign up to their mailing lists.
  8. What about case studies and examples? IDRC has published some case studies, as has FSG, the American Evaluation Association has compared some examples here, and Michael Quinn Patton together with colleagues, has written about exemplars here.
  9. What about more personal help? The coaches featured here on systems play can help and you can contact them at any time through the website!

Recommended resources for going further: