Evaluation: Everything Changes by Tom Grayson

Hello Evaluators!  I’m Tom Grayson, former member of the AEA Board of Directors, retired as Director of Evaluation in Student Affairs at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Currently, I am an evaluation practitioner, consultant and facilitator.

The jazz singer and song writer, Benard Ighner, composed, “Everything must change”. The opening lyrics are, “Everything must change, Nothing stays the same, Everyone must change, No one stays the same.” So be it with the field of evaluation.

As evaluation methods change from a focus on “context-input-process-product” and “goals-based” models, we must create new ways of designing and conducting evaluations regarding innovations in partnerships, businesses, education, social services, the private sector, development agencies and donors, academia and society.

The primary theme in the book, Getting to Maybe (2006), is that there is no road map for social innovation. This implies a change in evaluation methods to capture and articulate the raison d’être of non-profits, i.e., “changed lives.” For social innovators, the raison d’être is “changed systems that can change lives” (pages 51 – 52).  The authors provide real-life examples of social change through complex systems and relationships and they tease out rules of engagement between volunteers, leaders, organizations and circumstances and between culturally diverse individuals.

Evaluators need to assist innovators in articulating their values, passions, commitments and challenges, then guide them into thinking evaluatively.

Another example of evaluation in times of change is highlighted in a Blue Marble (2019) webinar conducted by Michael Q. Patton and Jerry Hage. They talk about social service evaluators as being guided by principles. The unit of analysis is the evaluand (not just programs or projects, which are fundamentally closed systems).  Guided principles are primarily used in complex systems, innovations, and social systems.

An important point when evaluating social innovations is that we cannot control outcomes. As is stated by Zimmerman & Patton, “…getting comfortable with acting in the face of uncertainty is part of being an [evaluator]”. Remember, “Everything must change”.

Rad Resources: 


Westley, F., Zimmerman, B., & Patton, M.Q. (2007). Getting to Maybe.  Random House of Canada, Toronto.


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1 thought on “Evaluation: Everything Changes by Tom Grayson”

  1. Thanks for this offering, Tom. It offered great clarity for me as a budding evaluator, growing up in this sociopolitical moment, and trying to navigate how to articulate what to channel my energies into, as I develop my professional and personal practice.

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