IC TIG Week: Design and Evaluation — Same, Same, but Different by Anna Martin & Katrina Mitchell

Chart credit: Liz Sanders and Pieter Jan Stappers. Convivial Toolbox.
Anna Martin

Hello fellow humans. My name is Anna Martin (she/her). I am an Evaluator, Social Worker, Facilitator, Complexity Coach, curious mischief maker and co-founder of Picture Impact. I have partnered with a designer (Katrina Mitchell) and it couldn’t be a happier work marriage—bringing forth new skills, perspectives and project roles.

Katrina Mitchell
Katrina Mitchell

Evaluation and Design are wonderful trans-disciplines and practices in their own right, and hold space in many of the same domains:

?  problem exploration,

?  explicit thinking practices,

?  an allegiance to utility,

?  a focus on meaning-making, and

?  intentionality with change journeys.

With evaluation, I often hold the space for reflecting on what has been (past) or looking at what is (present), but design thrusts forward (future) into what could be. Using data to explore what could be is the natural space of recommendations, articulation of opportunities, and suggestions based on lessons learned—common places for an evaluator to be seen.

When seen through the lens of a designer, however, looking ahead grows into something more generative and expansive. Whereas my super power as an evaluator is looking across lots of input and helping it converge into patterns, and frameworks and narratives, my partner’s mind goes toward where the data could diverge into new places and possibilities. This divergence isn’t random or unnecessarily vast, it is very grounded in the data and deeply rooted in purpose. It leans into where the data leads and how we want to use and launch forward from what we know and where we’ve been.

Similarly, in my role as a developmental evaluator for large, complex, change processes I look to take an accompanying, reflective role. My partner looks, instead, for places to be a catalyst for change. She immediately sees the places for adding in new input from outside the system and for how and in what direction to accelerate or inspire change.

Evaluation and design are complementary and mutually strengthening. Bringing design into consulting makes our work richer, gives us access to wider scholarship and theories, and keeps our work laser focused on being practical and useful for the hard work at hand of transforming our world into a place where we can all thrive.

Lessons Learned:

  • Design is vast.
  • Design is evolving.
Chart comparing old "traditional design disciplines" and new "emerging design disciplines."
Chart credit: Liz Sanders and Pieter Jan Stappers. Convivial Toolbox.

  • You can apply design (and/or design thinking) to anything; experiences, programs, interactions, data tables, surveys, curriculums, buildings, doctor visits. . . you get my point. Good design is always relevant.
  • Design for social change has exploded in the past 10 years.
  • Things work or don’t work. . . “by design.” A lot of anti-racist work begins by surfacing the racist design within systems—they are not malfunctioning, they are working as they were designed.
  • Things like Developmental Evaluation and Blue Marble Evaluation are unapologetic in their mixing of evaluation and design.
  • Design is messy, in many of the same ways as evaluating.
"Co-designing" diagram showing squiggly line going through design criteria, ideas, concept, prototype and product.
Chart credit: Liz Sanders and Pieter Jan Stappers. Co-creation and the landscape of design.

Rad Resources:

A bibliography of some of our favorite books on design:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating IC TIG Week with our colleagues in the Independent Consulting Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our IC TIG members. 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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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