Theories of Evaluation TIG Week: Developmental Evaluation in Practice by Elizabeth DiLuzio

Hi everyone! My name is Elizabeth (Liz) DiLuzio, Lead Curator and sometimes writer for AEA365. I am an evaluator and educator who has conducted evaluations and built capacities with non-profits, government entities, and foundations from New Hampshire to Nevada. Today, I want to talk about a less discussed but incredibly helpful and fulfilling approach to evaluation called Developmental Evaluation.

What is Developmental Evaluation?

Developmental evaluation is an approach to evaluation, complementary to formative and summative evaluations. What makes it stand out is the value it offers to complex and innovative settings.

How do I know when it’s the right fit?

Sometimes you know from the beginning that the program is complex and/or innovative, and you’re at the liberty to propose a developmental evaluation approach as the way in which you can be the most helpful.

Other times, at the onset of your engagement, you are simply unaware of how complex the program is. It’s typically when I’m trying to create a logic model or some other descriptive documentation of the program that I come to the realization that  there are too many complexities or unknowns for me to complete the task. There’s a fine line between the process of making a model explicit and recognizing that there just isn’t one yet, but the line exists and is marked with frustration. It’s when I concede that the task is as complete as it is going to be right now, and that the next anticipated phase of the evaluation is also on hold, and I ask myself, “how can I be useful now?” that I’ve pivoted to a Developmental Evaluation approach.

How do I know what to do?

Due to its responsive nature, developmental evaluation doesn’t have a built-in timeline the way that formative and summative evaluations do. The fact that you cannot plan the activities for the next year of your evaluation is a little stressful… and a little exciting. I find freedom in this type of evaluation; an opportunity to be 100% responsive to the most emergent needs of the program with which I am working.

That said, there are techniques you can use to figure out that right next step to take. Two of my current favorites are as follows:

  1. Regularly reflect their data back to them and see what arises. Finding thoughtful ways to analyze and present their data back to them provides a sort of mirror or lens into their work. As you facilitate the conversation that unfolds, listen for places where you could partner with them to eliminate ambiguity or find the answers needed to take next steps.
  2. Just ask! Simply asking employees in management and on-the-ground what they can learn in the next six months that will make a difference in their work will generate an abundance of ideas to which you can respond.

It’s worth noting that these techniques can enhance any evaluation approach and are not to be used exclusively in developmental evaluations.

Curious to know more? The rad resources below are an excellent place to start!

Rad Resources


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Theories of Evaluation (ToE) TIG week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from AEA’s ToE TIG. 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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