Hi, my name is Brian Hoessler and I’m a consultant who works with community-based organizations to build their capacity to make change. Previously, I worked in the non-profit sector in Ontario, most recently as a researcher at Kingston Community Health Centres for two projects including a support program for high school students called Pathways to Education. This program was based on a successful social innovation in Toronto’s Regent Park, and as part of the national Pathways initiative we followed their core four-pillar model of support: however, we soon realized that our students in small-town Kingston, and the challenges they faced, were very different from those in multicultural downtown Toronto.
To help our site adapt the national model to local realities, I drew on Developmental Evaluation (DE), a new approach well-suited to projects facing uncertainty and complexity. Instead of assessing adherence to pre-determined plans (formative) or outcomes (summative), DE helps infuse evaluative thinking into the process of program development by framing assumptions and rapidly providing data: in the case of Pathways to Education, I presented findings to the team and helped facilitate conversations around what it meant and how we should respond.
- Relationships are key. Building trust is important for any evaluative activity, but more so in DE given the integral role of the evaluator in the team. The evaluator has to feel comfortable in bringing forward feedback (positive and negative) and challenging assumptions; likewise, team members have to trust the evaluator and understand that uncomfortable questions are being raised to help improve the program rather than to pass judgment. Explicitly defining your role is important.
- Build trust by being there. Participate in meetings, help out with programming and events, chat with colleagues during coffee breaks, share interesting finding – demonstrate that you share your colleague’s aim of helping the program to meet its goals.
- Draw on your team members’ front-line experiences. For example, our initial student cohorts were progressing well overall through grades 9 and 10 – findings which didn’t match the experiences at other sites. Speaking with one of our support workers, I learned that there would be a “perfect storm” of pressures and challenges for our students starting in grade 11, an insight I confirmed through historical cohort data from the school boards. Armed with this information, the team could then discuss how to best support those at risk.
The McConnell Foundation’s website has two free resources in pdf on DE:
- A Developmental Evaluation Primer
- DE 201: A Practitioner’s Guide to Developmental Evaluation
- A great book, covering theory, methods, and case examples is Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use by Michael Quinn Patton
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