AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators



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 and select “Publications Discount Codes” from the “Members Only” menu to access the discount codes and process.

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  • Aspiring Scholars 2015: Reflections from Michael Quinn Patton | Katherine Haugh's Blog · November 24, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    […] the Aspiring Scholars event at #Eval15, I had the opportunity sit down with Michael Quinn Patton and ask questions about Developmental Evaluation, the appropriate role of an evaluator, and trends […]


  • Nga Le · October 30, 2014 at 3:54 am

    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


  • A Need for Racial Justice in Harm Reduction - Harm Reduction Coalition · February 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    […] (CCS) in May of 2011, A New Shift in Power: Black Leadership in Harm Reduction. A community-based developmental evaluation study was conducted that explores organizational development barriers for African-Americans to […]


  • Susan Kistler on Plexus Institute’s Free Developmental Evaluation Virtual Book Club - AEA365 · December 31, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    […] Resource: Michael Quinn Patton wrote about Development Evaluation on aea365 in July of 2010 when the book first came out. His post may whet your appetite for […]


    • Padung Laiadsin · October 17, 2016 at 11:45 am

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


  • Dr. Anthony Tarantino · July 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    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,,
    ???- ??????? – ?????????


  • Laxmi Pant · June 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    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.


  • Systemic Approaches in Evaluation revisited | Capturing Development · February 16, 2011 at 9:39 am

    […] a very inspiring presentation on Developmental Evaluation, among others by Richard Wilson-Grau. Michael Quinn Patton developed this approach over the last decades. Developmental Evaluation is meant to enhance learning […]


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