Applying Design Thinking in Evaluation by Asma M. Ali and Isabel P. Cuervo

We are Asma M. Ali, of AA & Associates, LLC in Chicago and Isabel P. Cuervo of the City University of New York. Recently, we have been incorporating Design Thinking strategies across our projects in our evaluation practice. Design Thinking (DT), also known as  human-centered design, has emerged across several fields as a user-centric approach to promote the integration of participants’ needs, life experiences, and understandings in projects. In evaluation, design considerations are most often enacted during evaluation reporting and dissemination phases of a project, to engage stakeholders and provide accessible reporting  However, DT principles also provide an inclusive and structured framework to integrate users’ lived experiences into the development and execution of program evaluations.

Although most often utilized by designers, evaluators can draw on DT to guide process and strategies to advance evaluation goals. Here are some ways that DT can be can be incorporated into your evaluation projects:

  • Accessing stakeholder experiences and wisdom in project brainstorming. The “inspiration” phase of DT promotes lived stakeholder experiences to identify research questions and engagement strategies by using and expanding the qualitative method tool-box to collect users’ experiences for diverse evaluation projects, such as collaging and geo-spatial methods.
  • Creating feedback loops between evaluation team members and stakeholders to develop and execute projects. DT also facilitates evaluators’ collective interpretations by drawing on stakeholders’ interpretations of findings, expanding accepted methods of ‘member-checking’ in social sciences. For example, DT also adds data visualization, charrettes, and user experience research methods to an evaluator’s tool-kit.
  • Solution-oriented and iterative work processes and results. In many evaluation projects, stakeholder needs inform project cycles, including the both the process and findings. The Prototype and Testing DT phases embrace the iterative nature of stakeholder engagement, incorporating stakeholder understandings throughout the evaluation.
  • Supporting culturally responsive evaluation (CRE) practices. Strategies inherent to DT are a natural fit for creating opportunities to promoting underrepresented stakeholders’ experiences. In our evaluation practices, we have utilized DT to support stakeholder input in our culturally responsive evaluations.

Rad Resources:

  • Evaluation resources: Adams and Nash (2016) described the application of DT strategies to evaluation practices in the Journal of Multidisciplinary Evaluation. An AEA365 blog post by Cameron Norman (2014) provided tips for incorporating DT in developmental evaluations.
  • DT Guide: A user-friendly DT guide is available at IDEO,, that can be used to think through and implement goals for social enterprises and evaluation projects.
  • Skill- Building: Attend our Presidential Strand Skill-Building Workshop, which we are conducting with Grisel Robles-Schrader of Northwestern University, for an interactive primer for using DT in Latinx CRE projects.

Please reach out to us using the provided email links to talk about incorporating DT in your evaluation projects. We are looking  forward to seeing you in Cleveland!

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “Applying Design Thinking in Evaluation by Asma M. Ali and Isabel P. Cuervo”

  1. What I believe is design thinking offers is a way to extend that planning in new ways that optimizes opportunities for feedback, new information, participation, and creative interaction.

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