Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken and Gabrielle Watson on Is Developmental Evaluation Right for Large Scale Organizational Change Processes?

Hi, we’re Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken (Director of the Syracuse University Transnational NGO Initiative) and Gabrielle Watson (independent evaluator). We engaged a group of practitioners at the 2015 AEA conference to talk about organizational change in International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs), and explore a hunch that Developmental Evaluation could help organizations manage change.

Several large INGOs are undergoing significant organizational change. These are complex processes – they’re always disruptive and often painful. The risk of failure is high. Roughly half of all organizational change processes either implode or fizzle out ( ). A common approach is not to build in learning systems at all, but rather to take an “announce, flounder, learn” approach ( ).

Lesson Learned: Most INGOs support change processes in three main ways: (1) external “expert” reviews; (2) CEO- level exchanges with peer organizations; (3) staff-level reviews. It is this last category – where change is actually implemented – that is least developed but where it’s most needed. Successful organizational change hinges on deep culture and mindset change ( ).

AEA Session participants highlighted key challenges:

  • Headquarters and country staff experience change very differently
  • Frequent revisiting of decisions
  • Ineffective communication; generates uncertainty and anxiety
  • Learning not well supported at country or implementation team level
  • Country teams retain a passive mindset when should be more assertive
  • Excessive focus on legal and administrative; not enough on culture and mind-set

Can organizations do better? Might Developmental Evaluation offer useful approaches and tools?

Hot Tip: seems tailor-made for large-scale organizational change processes. It is designed for innovative interventions in complex environments when the optimum approach and end-state are not known or knowable. It involves stakeholder sense-making supported by tailored & evolving evaluative inquiry (often also participatory) to quickly test iterations, track progress and guide adaptations. It’s designed to evolve along with the intervention itself.

Hot Tips: Session participants share some good practices:

  • Action learning. Exchanges among implementers increased adaptive capacity and made emotional experience with change easier
  • Pilot initiatives. Time-bound, with frequent reviews and external support
  • “Guerrilla” roll-out. Hand-picked early adopters sparked “viral” spread of new approaches

Lesson Learned: Our review suggests Developmental Evaluation can address many of the challenges of organizational change, including shifting organizational culture. Iterative participatory learning facilitates adaptations that are appropriate and owned by staff. It adds value by building a learning culture – the ultimate driver of large scale organizational change.

We are curious how many organizations are using Developmental Evaluation for their change processes, and what we can learn from this experience. Add your thoughts to the comments, or write to Tosca or Gabrielle if you have an experience to share.

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.

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