DE Guiding Principles: Evaluation Rigour

Asks probing evaluation questions; thinks and engages evaluatively; questions assumptions; applies evaluation logic; uses appropriate methods; synthesises and makes meaning from a values inspired framework and stays empirically grounded.

  • Developmental Evaluation it not evaluation lite. To ensure evaluation rigour, evaluators should have deep methodological toolkits and be flexible in their application of evaluation tools, methods and approaches to best meet the needs of key stakeholders, communities and the innovation. Evaluators need to be able to couple their choices of methods and approaches with context.

  • Typically in a Developmental Evaluation, an adaptive action cycle of inquiry – What, So what, Now what – is an essential process that allows for shared emergent and iterative questioning, reflection and action.  

  • Evaluative reasoning and thinking is an essential part of Developmental Evaluation i.e., combining evidence and values to reach conclusions about quality and value. It is with rigorous thinking that rigour is displayed.

Questions to ask ourselves:

  • What kinds of thinking are we familiar with?

  • How often do we question the thinking that is needed in evaluative contexts?

  • What perspectives and values need to be included in decisions about evaluative criteria, design and synthesis?

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DE Guiding Principles: Timely and Culturally Appropriate Feedback

Informs ongoing adaptation as needs, findings, and insights emerge, responding to the natural rhythms and cultural norms of the context the development and evaluation are happening within.

  • Timeframes in Developmental Evaluation need to be matched to the rhythms of the initiative  - so situational responsiveness is an imperative.

  • It’s important to think creatively about what an evaluation process or product might look like, taking cues and guidance from the context and situation.

  • Increasing credibility and use usually requires forms of expression that map to the context.  

Questions to ask ourselves:

  • What will ‘good’ delivery of feedback look like in this context?

  • What will be needed to ensure feedback is culturally appropriate?

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DE Guiding Principles: Utilization-Focused Evaluation

Pays attention to intended use by intended users from beginning to end, facilitating the evaluation progress to ensure utility and actual use.

  • Engagement in evaluation should be both useful and valuable to participants and other stakeholders.

  • It pays to be mindful about what utilisation looks like in people’s unique contexts.

  • It’s important for the evaluation to be able to work with and adapt to different situations.

  • Evaluation use occurs throughout the evaluation process, it’s not something that should be left until the end.

Questions to ask ourselves:

  • How do we typically take the pulse of situations? How well does this serve us?

  • How do we learn what matters to people?

  • What are the different ways we might build evaluation utilisation into the current situation?

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DE Guiding Principles: Complexity Concepts

Interpret development through a complexity lens, recognising that situations are often uncertain, emergent and dynamic, and evaluation is responsive to this reality.

  • It is not possible to understand the world around us by only examining its parts – we live as part of patterns of relationships in a synergistic way with all the different features of our situations.

  • History matters – the events of the past do influence the shape of our futures.

  • One size does not fit all and the way change happens is dependent on the features and patterns of relationships in local contexts.

  • Change is emergent, the future is uncertain.

  • Variation and diversity provides resilience in the face of change.

Questions to ask ourselves:

With innovation, there will always be uncertainty and turbulence:

  • How easy or difficult is it to stand quietly in inquiry when faced with a complex situation?

  • What possibilities inform our thinking that we didn’t know existed twelve months ago?

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DE Guiding Principles: Systems Thinking

Thinks systemically throughout, understanding interrelationships, engaging with contrasting perspectives, and reflecting ethically on boundaries of the social system that the innovation and evaluation are being developed within.

Developmental Evaluation explores sources of:

  • motivations and values built into our views of situations and efforts to improve them.

  • legitimacy, i.e., the moral basis on which we expect people or the environment to bear the consequences of what we do or fail to do.

  • control, addressing power structures influencing what is considered to be the problem and what might be done about it.

  • knowledge and the knowledge basis defining what counts as relevant.

Questions to ask ourselves:

  • Where does the sense of purposefulness and value come from in the situation?

  • Where does control / authority for the situation rest? Where should it be coming from?

  • What experiences and expertise are considered relevant and credible?

  • What experience and expertise ought to be at the table?

  • Whose interests are being served legitimately?

  • Whose interests ought to be served legitimately?

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DE Guiding Principles: Innovation Niche

Innovation Niche illuminates how the change is new, novel, or adapts and interprets old wisdom to new contexts.

  • Part of the developmental task is to find out what innovation and adaptation means to those who are trying to bring about change, helping to identify the degree and nature of change happening and evolving.

  • It’s important to recognise that sometimes what seems ‘innovative’ is actually recognition and support of old wisdom and practice.

Questions to ask ourselves:

  • How can Developmental Evaluation help track the changes in basic routines, resources and/or information flows, beliefs and behaviours in systems?

  • How do we manage the tensions between innovation and learning and the push for accountability?

  • How might Developmental Evaluation balance support for innovation and emergence and also support initiatives to demonstrate their value empirically and robustly?

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DE Guiding Principles: Co-Creation


Develop the innovation and evaluation together – interwoven, interdependent, iterative, and co-created – so that developmental evaluation becomes part of the change process.

  • It’s vital to make time developing and revisiting shared understandings of values, principles, and other key concepts.

  • Trusted relationships are the business of Developmental Evaluation and the basis of the collaborative and developmental process inherent in innovation.  

Questions to ask ourselves:

  • Do we understand the differences in power in a particular situation?

  • How can we gain more insight or understanding about this?

  • What responsibilities do we have in relation to this power?

  • How do we acknowledge the history, experience and wisdom that exists within the current situation?

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