Cameron Norman on The Evaluator-as-Designer

You might not think so, but I think you’re a designer.

My name is Cameron Norman and I work with health and human service clients doing evaluation and design for innovation. As the Principal of CENSE Research + Design I bring together concepts like developmental evaluation, complexity science and design together for clients to help them learn about what they do and better create and re-create their programs and services to innovate for changing conditions.

Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon once wrote: “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones”.

By that standard, most of us who are doing work in evaluation probably are contributing designers as well.

Lessons Learned: Design is about taking what is and transforming it into what could be. It is as much a mindset as it is a set of strategies, methods and tools. Designing is about using evidence and blending it with vision, imagination and experimentation.

Here are some key lesson’s I’ve learned about design and design thinkers that relate to evaluation:

  1. Designers don’t mind trying something and failing as they see it as a key to innovation. Evaluation of those attempts is what builds learning.
  2. When you’re operating in a complex context, you’re inherently dealing with novelty, lots of information, dynamic conditions and no known precedent so past practice will only help so much. Designers know that every product intended for this kind of environment will require many iterations to get right; don’t be afraid to tinker
  3. Wild ideas can be very useful. Sometimes being free to come up with something outlandish in your thinking reveals patterns that can’t be seen when you try too hard to be ‘realistic’ and ‘practical’. Give yourself space to be creative.
  4. Imagination is best when shared. Design is partly about individual creativity and group sharing. Good designers work closely with their clients to stretch their thinking, but also to enlist them as participants throughout the process.
  5. Design (and the learning from it) is doesn’t stop at the product (or service). Creating an evaluation is only part of the equation. How the evaluation is used and what comes from that is also part of the story because that informs the next design and articulates the next set of needs.

I write regularly on this topic on my blog, Censemaking, which has a library section where you can find more resources on design and design thinking. Design is fun, engaging and taps into our creative energies for making things and making things better. Try it out and unleash your inner designer in your next evaluation.

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.

2 thoughts on “Cameron Norman on The Evaluator-as-Designer”

  1. Pingback: Applying Design Thinking in Evaluation by Asma M. Ali and Isabel P. Cuervo · AEA365

  2. Pingback: The Start of a Preoccupation… | Evaluation and Design Thinking

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