PFE Week: Overarching & Operating Principles by Charmagne E. Campbell-Patton

My name is Charmagne E. Campbell-Patton and I am the Director of Organizational Learning and Evaluation at Utilization-Focused Evaluation. Over the last two years, I’ve had the privilege of facilitating the development of principles with a number of different groups. While the processes we used and the principles that emerged were distinct in each case, all of the groups struggled with the question of how much to include. Most wanted way more principles than made sense lest something critically important be left out.

Lesson Learned: Principles are most useful when they can be easily called to memory by everyone who is responsible for them. That usually means somewhere between four to eight principles, though of course there is no hard and fast rule. The general principle in this case is Less is More: Have enough principles to be meaningful and effective, but not so many that no one can remember (much less implement) them.

This is where the distinction between overarching and operating principles can come in handy.

Hot Tip: Overarching principles provide general guidance for effectiveness. Operating principles provide more specific guidance for implementing the overarching principles. Operating principles should still follow the GUIDE criteria.

Cool Trick: When working with a group to develop principles, let the ideas flow freely before trying to sort out which ones are overarching and which are operating. Once you have a full list, try to sort them into categories and determine which are most inspirational or core, and which are more tactical or supporting of the overarching idea.

Lesson Learned: Separating principles into overarching and operating principles helps to ensure that as many voices as possible are included without ending up with an unworkable number of principles.

Rad Resource: Chapter 17 in Principles-Focused Evaluation (Patton 2017) provides on example of the distinction between overarching and operating principles.

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.

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