A Practitioner’s Guide to Developmental Evaluation

Developmental evaluation has emerged fairly recently as a way to support adaptive learning in complex and emergent initiatives. Combining the rigour of evaluation with the flexibility and imagination required for development, this new form of evaluation brings critical thinking to bear on the creative process in initiatives involving high levels of uncertainty, innovation, emergence, and social complexity.

As a relative newcomer to the field of evaluation, developmental evaluation has comparatively few resources associated with it. In 2008, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation published A Developmental Evaluation Primer to capture some of the high level principles associated with this type of work. The primer provides a basic foundation for developmental evaluation, describing core elements, identifying the necessary skills and capacities, and touching on some of the issues and challenges associated with this type of evaluation.

DE 201: A Practitioner’s Guide to Developmental Evaluation is intended to build on the concepts outlined in the primer by articulating some of the key practices associated with this work. These practices were identified and developed through a three-year multi-site case study involving developmental evaluators (DEs) at six sites across the country. While several DEs had evaluation experience, most were new to developmental evaluation. Together, we formed a learning community to document practices and challenges, and further our understanding of this emergent discipline. Our discussions resulted in the identification of three entry points for DEs and four core practices that characterize the work.

In this guidebook, we explore each of these key activities, offering suggestions for practice, insights from other DEs, and further resources for you to explore.

Developed in collaboration with the International Institute for Child Rights & Development, and Social Innovation Generation.

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