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Michael Quinn Patton on Developmental Evaluation

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.

Rad Resources:
•    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.

11 thoughts on “Michael Quinn Patton on <i>Developmental Evaluation</i>”

  1. Buthaina Alkindi

    Hi Michael,
    I have enjoyed and learnt a lot from your various articals and books on evaluation . I congratulate you for your great work.
    Kind regards

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  5. Hello Michael,

    I have attended your presentation on developmental evaluation. I also got your slides on developmental evaluation through an online training course. So I have got some exposure to the approach. As my agency is going to have innovative investments in development aid, I want to take a training course on this evaluation approach to master it so as to be able to apply it in my work. Are there any training courses in Asia?

    Your response would be very much looked forward and thankful.

    Best regards,
    Nga Le

    Evaluation Manager
    Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
    Hanoi, Vietnam

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    1. I interested in DE approach to develop my project that is a new project. I hope that DE will support and improve it.

  8. Hello Michael

    I a read your Qualitative Evlauation Methods text and
    believe your chapter on conduction open ended interviews is a great guideline for conducting risk self assessments. I write and teach about risk management in finance, and risk self assessments is a key component of a robust risk management program.

    I would like to work up a risk interveiw guideline citing your text. Would it be possible to get a PDF of the 1980 text. I will share what I create.

    Best Regards,


    Anthony Tarantino, PhD, Six Sigma Master Black Belt, CSOXP, CPIM, CPM

    CVCM Six Sigma + CoE
    Mobile 562-818-3275
    anthgeor@cisco.com, agtarantino@hotmail.com, atarantino@scu.edu
    ???- ??????? – ?????????

  9. I enjoy reading your recent book on Developmental Evaluation and also attended the book launch event in Waterloo. I have a copy of your signed copy. But I am still wondering where does the concept of monitoring fits within the framework of developmental evaluation? You talk about formative and summative evaluation but, to the best of my knowledge, avoid the term monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Any comments on this would be highly appreciated.

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