Blog > Developmental evaluation – some thoughts and links to facilitation

November 1, 2010

If you look at the top of my blog you’ll see this. Maybe one day I’ll write a post about why I call my business Beyond the Edge (in case you haven’t worked it out already.) And I do write a lot about facilitation. What’s with the evaluation though?

Here’s the back story.

I had been working with a friend, Peter Box, in East Gippsland. We had finished a two-day workshop and were driving back to Melbourne (where I was living at the time). He had to stop off to have a meeting with a woman who was heading up the evaluation team in the State Government Department of Primary Industries. I tagged along. She wanted him to sit in on some training that was being delivered where there were some difficulties. I can’t remember why but she also invited me too. So a few weeks later we went to a three-day evaluation workshop designed to equip the participants with the skills, knowledge and enthusiasm to develop evaluation plans and do formative evaluation to improve existing or subsequent projects. It was all gobblydegook to me. What we could do was advise on the delivery – moving away from a lecture style to a more hands-on, practical, participatory approach – facilitated learning, if you like.

One of the trainers was Jess Dart. She was completing her PhD on Most Significant Change and wanted a proofreader. I’d been a journalist and an editor in another life, and work was slow, so I agreed to proofread her PhD. I didn’t know much about evaluation or MSC, but was intrigued by a technique that relied on gathering stories and facilitated workshops. One thing led to another and I found myself working with Jess to deliver that same evaluation training. We worked well together – Jess bringing the content about evaluation and me bringing facilitation and learning processes. Through osmosis I suppose I gradually learnt the content too. Jess left to have babies and I found myself continuing to deliver this training. I also found myself delivering evaluation training to scientists in Vietnam, Philippines, and Fiji and even doing some secondary impact evaluations for Oz-Aid. This is one of the ways that I got a foothold in to the humanitarian aid sector – an area of work that still gives me great pleasure, challenge and opportunity.

I no longer work directly with evaluation. Occasionally I’m asked to help train people in how to collect evaluation information using facilitated approaches. If you’re interested you can read about it here. Our training was influenced strongly by the utilization-focused evaluation work of  Michael Quinn Patton. This week Chris Corrigan posted links to developmental evaluation, created by the very same Michael Quinn Patton. His comment that “this is the first thing I have seen on evaluation that has got me excited about the connection between complexity, systems thinking and change” was enough to spark my interest.

I actually sat up and took a lot more notice when I read this slide in Michael Patton’s slide set about developmental evaluation. (Okay – it’s not an Insanely Great slide, but I really like the message.) Here’s some of the key points that I gleaned from the Practitioner’s Guide to Developmental Evaluation.

Developmental evaluation supports real-time learning in complex and emergent situations. The evaluator is part of the team making real-time decisions based on feedback, rather than reporting to an external authority. It relies on collaboration and innovation.

Developmental evaluation isn’t always needed – if cause and effect relationships are clear, then traditional evaluation is good enough. However, in those situations where the environment is always changing, it’s difficult to plan or predict, it’s socially complex and innovation is called for, then maybe developmental evaluation is recommended.

Traditional evaluators may not be the best people to do developmental evaluation (and here’s where there are some interesting links with facilitation). Developmental evaluators need to have some facility with strategic thinking, pattern recognition, relationship building and leadership. And, community connectedness, curiosity, appreciativeness and a whole bunch of other skills that I’d list under the heading of facilitation skills.

And I love the answer this question: How is developmental evaluation practiced?

Any way that works!

There is no prescribed methodology. Again, like facilitating. I do like this list of types of developmental evaluation interventions: asking questions, facilitating, sourcing or providing information, mapping and modeling, pausing, reminding and match-making.

The more I explore developmental evaluation the more links I see with facilitation. And as I reflect on the Noam Chomsky quote above, I’m reminded that maybe it’s also time for a new way of looking at facilitation, recognising that traditional forms of faciltation have helped us get this far, but now we need something different to deal with the complexities and challenges faced by the world we now find ourselves in.

I was thinking of removing the word evaluation from my header. Maybe I’ll leave it there for a little while longer.

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