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Outcome Harvesting Week: Outcome Harvesting Principles by Michael Quinn Patton

I’m Michael Quinn Patton, author of Principles-Focused Evaluation: The GUIDE (2018).  Chapter 32 in that book presents the Principles of Outcome Harvesting by Ricardo Wilson-Grau.

Since Ricardo is tragically no longer with us, excerpts from his chapter allow him to contribute to this series, which he had planned to do.

The essence of Outcome Harvesting is achieving outcomes understood as (1) observable changes in the behavior of individuals, groups, communities, organizations, or institutions, plus (2) what the intervention did that plausibly contributed to them.  Ricardo wrote:

I want to articulate why I resonate so strongly to a principles- based approach to evaluation. Over the decade that I developed Outcome Harvesting, there have been three constants that I believe explain the importance of the 9 principles.

The first constant was that all the 40+ projects, programs, and organizations I evaluated operated in substantially complex and dynamic situations…Their managers had found that conventional evaluation approaches were unworkable… because complexity was so substantial that managers had to change their plans so much that it made no sense to assess if they had done and achieved what was in their original plans.

The second constant in the experience of developing Outcome Harvesting was the wide diversity represented by the projects I did ranging across the seven continents and a variety of social change and development topics.

The third constant was having to develop a mode of evaluation that responded to very different content needs while ensuring evaluation rigor. The participatory evaluation solution I found was to customize and adapt evaluations, while maintaining fidelity. That led to identifying and elaborating outcome harvesting principles

Complexity, dynamism, and diversity plus a highly participatory process were the crucible in which the six steps of Outcome Harvesting were forged, along with the awareness that each of those steps had to be customized for each evaluation design and adapted in the course of the evaluation process. But, I became concerned if not anguished to find as many misuses and abuses of Outcome Harvesting as creative advances in developing it further.

Therefore, to ensure fidelity and rigor, Ricardo identified the principles underlying the six steps of Outcome Harvesting and communicated them through the image below.

OH Process and Content Principles 

Lessons Learned: Principles provide grounded guidance for implementing OH in the face of complexity. Ricardo explained in correspondence: “Because adapting Outcome Harvesting’s six steps varies case by case, the guidance of the underlying principles is essential. In my experience, faulty application of Outcome Harvesting is due mainly to evaluators misunderstanding, misusing, or simply not taking into account all of the principles.”

Hot Tip: All 9 principles, adapted to context, must be consciously considered to ensure an effective Outcome Harvest.

Rad Resource:  Ricardo Wilson-Grau (2018). Outcome Harvesting Evaluation: Practical  Application of Essential Principles, chapter 32 in Principles-Focused Evaluation: The Guide,  by Michael Quinn Patton, Guildford Press.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Outcome Harvesting week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from colleagues of the late Ricardo Wilson-Grau, originator of Outcome Harvesting, and these articles are written in his honor. 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 aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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