My name is Michael Quinn Patton and I am an independent evaluation consultant. That means I make my living meeting my clients’ information needs. Over the last few years, I have found increasing demand for innovative evaluation approaches to evaluate innovations. In other words, social innovators and funders of innovative initiatives want and need an evaluation approach that they perceive to be a good match with the nature and scope of innovations they are attempting. Out of working with these social innovators emerged an approach I’ve called developmental evaluation that applies complexity concepts to enhance innovation and support evaluation use.
Hot Tip: Innovations are different from standard projects and programs. Innovators are often different from people implementing typical programs. Innovators are in a hurry, value rapid, real time feedback, have a high tolerance for ambiguity, embrace uncertainty, learn quickly, and adapt rapidly to changed conditions. They’re not always sure where they’re heading, so they resist being boxed in by concrete, pre-set targets. They’re propelled into action more by vision than by clear, specific and measurable outcomes. They want an evaluation approach attuned to their fast pace and innovative spirit. They are at home in complex dynamic systems. Such systems characterize the world in which they live and work. Thus, they want an evaluation approach attuned to complexity.
Hot tip: Complex situations challenge traditional evaluation practices. Complexity can be defined as situations in which how to achieve desired results is not known (high uncertainty), key stakeholders disagree about what to do and how to do it, and many factors are interacting in a dynamic environment that undermine efforts at control, making predictions and static models problematic. Complexity concepts include nonlinearity (small actions can produce large reactions), emergence (patterns emerge from self-organization among interacting agents), and dynamic adaptations (interacting elements and agents respond and adapt to each other).
Hot tip: Developmental evaluation aims to meet the needs of social innovators by applying complexity concepts to enhance innovation and use. Developmental evaluation focuses on what is being developed through innovative engagement.
• Developmental evaluation: Applying complexity concepts to enhance innovation and use by Michael Quinn Patton (Guilford Press, 2010).*
• A developmental evaluation primer. Jamie Gamble. (2008). Montréal: The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.
• DE 201: A Practitioner’s Guide to Developmental Evaluation by Elizabeth Dozois,
Marc Langlois and Natasha Blanchet-Cohen. Montréal: The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.
• AEA Annual Conference professional development workshop on Developmental Evaluation, with Michael Quinn Patton, November 8-9, San Antonio.
*AEA Members receive 20% off on all books ordered directly from Guilford. If you are a member, sign into the AEA website at http://eval.org/ and select “Publications Discount Codes” from the “Members Only” menu to access the discount codes and process.