Hello. I am Karen Widmer, a 4th year doctoral student in the Evaluation program at Claremont Graduate University. I’ve been developing and evaluating systems for performance (business, education, healthcare, and nonprofits) for a long time. I think organizations are a lot like organisms. While each organization is unique, certain conditions help them all grow. I get enthusiastic about designing evaluations that optimize those conditions!
Theme: My master’s research project looked at evaluation-related activities shared by high-performing organizations. For these organizations, evaluation was tied to decision making. Evaluation activity pulled together knowledge about organizational impact, direction, processes, and developments, and this fed the decisions. The challenge for evaluation is to pool the streams of organizational knowledge most relevant for each decision.
- Evaluative thinking identifies the flow of organizational knowledge and this provides decision makers with a point of reference for quality decisions.
- In technical language, Knowledge Flow may mediate or moderate the relationship between evaluative thinking and decision quality. Moreover, the quality of the decision could be measured by the performance outcomes resulting from the decision!
- Design your evaluation to follow the flow of knowledge throughout the evaluand lifecycle.
- Document what was learned when tacit knowledge was elicited; when knowledge was discovered, captured, shared, or applied; and knowledge regarding the status quo was challenged. (To explore further, look to the work of: M. Polanyi, I. Becerra-Fernandez, and C. Argyris and D. Schon.)
- For the organizations I looked at, these knowledge activities contained the evaluative feedback desired by decision makers. The knowledge generated at these points told what’s going on.
- For example, tacit perceptions could be drawn out through peer mentoring or a survey; knowledge captured on a flipchart or by software; or a team might “discover” knowledge new to the group or challenge knowledge previously undisputed.
Conclusion: By design or still shot, evaluative thinking can view the flow of knowledge critical to decisions about outcomes. Knowledge Flow offers a framework for connecting evaluation with the insights decision makers want for reflection and adaptive response. Let’s talk about it!
Rad Resource: The Criteria for Performance Excellence is a great government publication that links evaluative thinking so closely with decisions about outcomes that you can’t pry them apart.
Rad resource: Neat quote by Nielsen, Lemire, and Skov in the American Journal of Evaluation (2011) defines evaluation capacity as “…an organization’s ability to bring about, align, and sustain its objectives, structure, processes, culture, human capital, and technology to produce evaluative knowledge [emphasis added] that informs on-going practices and decision-making to improve organizational effectiveness.”
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