Hi, we are Tom Archibald (Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education at Virginia Tech) and Guy Sharrock (Senior Technical Advisor for Learning with Catholic Relief Services). We believe one way to integrate and sustain learning in an organization is by intentionally promoting “evaluative thinking.”
Evaluative thinking (ET) is an increasingly popular idea within the field of evaluation. A quick overview of ET is provided in a previous post here. Today, we share some principles and practices for instilling ET in organizations and programs, based on our experiences facilitating ET-promoting workshops with development practitioners in Ethiopia and Zambia.
Lesson Learned: From our research and practice, we identified these guiding principles for promoting ET:
- Promoters of ET should be opportunist about engaging learners in ET processes, building on and maximizing intrinsic motivation. Meet people where they are and in what they are doing.
- Promoting ET should incorporate incremental experiences, following the developmental process of “scaffolding.” For example, instead of starting by asking people to question their deeply-held beliefs, begin with something less threatening, such as critiquing a newspaper article, and then work up to more advanced ET.
- High-level ET is not a born-in skill, nor does it depend on any particular educational background; therefore, promoters should offer opportunities for it to be intentionally practiced by all who wish to develop as evaluative thinkers.
- Evaluative thinkers must be aware of—and work to overcome—assumptions and belief preservation.
- ET should be applied in many settings—program design, monitoring, evaluation, and so on. In order to best learn to think evaluatively, the skill should be applied and practiced in multiple contexts and alongside peers and colleagues.
- Old habits and practices die hard. It may take time for ET to infuse existing processes and practices. Be patient and persevere!
Lesson Learned: In addition, we learned that:
- Interest and buy-in in the effort must be both top-down and bottom-up. From the top, in international development, some funders and large organizations (e.g., the US Agency for International Development) are increasingly supportive of learning-centered and complexity-aware approaches, favoring the promotion of ET.
- Existing levels and structures of evaluation capacity must be considered; ET can and should fit within and augment those structures.
- Hierarchical power dynamics and cultural norms, especially around giving and receiving constructive criticism (without getting defensive) must be addressed.
Rad Resource: InterAction and the Centre for Learning on Evaluation and Results for Anglophone Africa have undertaken a study of international NGO ET practices in sub-Saharan Africa. Their report provides some great insights on the enabling factors (at a general, organizational, and individual level) that can help ET, and learning, take hold.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Organizational Learning and Evaluation Capacity Building (OL-ECB) Topical Interest Group Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our OL-ECB 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.