Launch of Developmental Evaluation – Washington DC Wed 7/21

Fad or real progress?  Useful concept or distracting buzzword?

Discussions about applying complexity ideas and methods to evaluation have been around for some time, and there is now some ‘push-back’ from sceptics who see these as simply avoiding scrutiny and accountability.

Michael Patton ‘s new book Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use (published by Guilford Press) goes beyond the theory to present many, many examples that show how to practically enact these ideas and methods, and the value this can add.

Michael Patton will launch and discuss the book on 7/21, Wed, from 6-8pm at the Park Hyatt in DC., 1201 24th Street NW. The event is sponsored by The Evaluators’ Institute.

If you can’t make it to this session,  you might be able to attend Michael Patton’s expert lecture at the November conference of the American Evaluation Association (see the searchable conference program for more information about sessions).

Session Title: Development Evaluation for Complex Systems: Quality as Speed and Adaptability Expert Lecture Session 323 to be held in Lone Star B on Thursday, Nov 11, 3:35 PM to 4:20 PM Sponsored by the Systems in Evaluation TIG

Presenter: Michael Quinn Patton, Utilization-Focused Evaluation,

Abstract: Traditional methodological criteria of quality such as validity, reliability, generalizability, and attribution specificity are often fixed and static. Speed, agility, responsiveness and adaptability can be perceived as threats to rigor when program evaluation is conducted within closed system assumptions, including being able to standardize interventions, predetermine outcome measures, and control uncertainty. Developmental evaluation, in contrast, supports rapid feedback, emergent designs, and adaptability in open and complex adaptive systems characterized by high degrees of uncertainty, nonlinearity, and turbulence. Speed, agility, and adaptability, often considered threats in rigor under traditional evaluation designs , become criteria of quality under conditions of complexity. This session will examine speed and adaptability as alternative criteria of quality. The session is based on the presenter’s new book ‘Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use.’

[Disclosure – I received a free copy of ‘Developmental Evaluation’]

3 comments to Launch of Developmental Evaluation – Washington DC Wed 7/21

  • Hi All

    I think most recent Michael Quinn Patton book is not fad and it is real progress in evaluative thinking. I read chapter one and two of it in a critical manner. I think more about its concepts and find many Useful concepts that aggregate some key concepts for better theorizing and practicing evaluation.



  • Chad Green

    I live in the Washington, D.C. area, but was unable to attend the launch….

    If I had attended the session, I would have highlighted the following sentence from Chapter 1 that I think needs greater clarification: “Part of the value of an experienced developmental evaluator to an innovation team is bringing a reservoir of knowledge (based on many years of practice and having read a great many evaluation reports) about what kinds of things tend to work and where to anticipate problems” (p. 20).

    To be effective in developmental evaluation, an evaluator’s reservoir of knowledge requires more than an evaluation-centric perspective (from the inside-out). It also requires an appreciation of the other disciplines and how disciplinary experts think in different ways (from the outside-in). After all, it was Patton himself
    who predicted
    that evaluation in the next quarter century would be “increasingly acknowledged and valued as a transdiscipline and profession” (p. 44). If we wish to live up to this prediction, that is, be both effective at transdisciplinary problem solving and be taken seriously by experts in other disciplines, then we will need to think more “disciplinarily” (Gardner, 2008, Five Minds of the Future).

    To quote Gardner once again: “One example of the poorly disciplined mind is when people see everything through one discipline: economists who see the whole world through rational choice; psychologists who see the whole world through evolutionary psychology…. That is hyper disciplinarity.” To be effective in developmental evaluation requires that we move outside of the comfort zone of hyper disciplinarity to its polar opposite, transdisciplinarity, a move which I find personally and professionally refreshing.


  • Almost 4 years after it was written, I serendipitously found Chad Green’s comment on the need for transdisciplinarity in (developmental) evaluation. Having just finished a book with Bob Williams describing an accessible method for systemic intervention design and inquiry, I totally concur. The case that was worked in the book (“Wicked solutions: a systems approach to complex problems”) uses transdisciplinary perspectives to assess and improve project design in West Africa, but also key stakeholder perspectives. This is not at all surprising considering that the book’s method was in part inspired by “the systems approach” of C. West Churchman, who famously said that “The systems approach begins when first you see the world through the eyes of another,” but also that “There are no experts in the systems approach.” This last principle is a strong warning against expert bias and in favour of the use of stakeholder knowledge.