PFE Week: Anchoring a complex program with overarching principles by Marah Moore

Hi there! I am Marah Moore, the founder and director of i2i Institute (Inquiry to Insight). We are based in the high desert mountains of Northern New Mexico, and we work on evaluations of complex systems locally, nationally, and internationally.

Since 2008 I have been the lead evaluator for the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP), working in nine countries in Africa and three countries in the Andes. In 2014 the CCRP Leadership Team (LT), guided by the evaluation work, began an intentional process of identifying principles for the program. Up to that point we had developed a robust and dynamic theory of change (ToC) that guided program evaluation, learning, planning, and implementation. The ToC helped bring coherence to a complex and wide-ranging program. Because we wanted the ToC to remain a living document, growing and changing as the program grew and changed, we found we needed to identify a different sort of touchstone for the program—something that would anchor the conceptual and practical work of the program without inhibiting the emergence that is at the core of CCRP. That’s when we developed principles.

CCRP has eight overarching principles. The principles guide all decision-making and implementation for the program, and inform the development of conceptual frameworks and evaluation tools.

In addition to the principles at the program level, we have developed principles for various aspects of the program.

Lesson Learned: Programs based on principles expect evaluation to also be principles-based. Here are the draft principles we are using for the CCRP Integrated Monitoring & Evaluation Process.

  1. Make M&E utilization-focused and developmental
  2. Ensure that M&E is informed by human systems dynamics and the adaptive cycle: What? So what? Now what?
  3. Design M&E to serve learning, adaptation, and accountability
  4. Use multiple and mixed methods.
  5. Embed M&E so that it’s everyone’s responsibility
  6. Align evaluation with the Theory of Change.
  7. Ensure that M&E is systematic and integrated across CCRP levels
  8. Build M&E into project and program structures and use data generated with projects and programs as the foundation for M&E.
  9. Aggregate and synthesize learning across projects and time to identify patterns and generate lessons.
  10. Communicate and process evaluation findings to support ongoing program development and meet accountability demands.
  11. Ensure that evaluation follows the evaluation profession’s Joint Committee Standards.

Hot Tip: The evaluation process can surface principles of an initiative, exposing underlying tensions and building coherence. The evaluation can go further and assess the “fidelity” of an initiative against the principles and explore the role of the principles in achieving outcomes. 

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Principles-Focused Evaluation (PFE) week. All posts this week are contributed by practitioners of a PFE approach. 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.