Gagan Leekha, BCHC Community Liaison, had a chance to talk to Natasha Blanchet-Cohen about developmental evaluation.
Natasha Blanchet-Cohen is based in Montreal, Quebec and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Human Sciences at Concordia University. One of her roles is as a developmental evaluation coach with the J.W. McConnell Foundation’s Innoweave program.
Gagan Leekha: How were you first introduced to Developmental Evaluation?
NBC: Developmental evaluation (DE) is a fairly recent framework. I started working with it in 2006, through Youthscape which was funded by the J.W. McConnell Foundation.
YouthScape centred on building community resiliency through youth engagement in five different Canadian cities. We had DE evaluators attached to the five projects and had a community of practice and a lead developmental evaluator helped to support the initiative at the national level. You can read about it in DE: 201 – A Practitioner’s Guide to Developmental Evaluation.
"Developmental evaluation helped convene partners, and create spaces for airing concerns in ways that would never have been anticipated."
GL: How would you describe DE?
NBC: DE is a form of evaluation that is useful for projects dealing with innovation and complexity. It’s a way of gathering ongoing feedback rather than just at the mid-point or end of a project. It’s designed to contribute to the development of a project and provide real-time feedback as the project evolves.
In YouthScape, for instance, as a result of the developmental evaluators’ ability to provide real-time feedback to the initiative, the community organizations, the national managing agency, and the Foundation learned of design flaws, hidden strengths, and promising breakthroughs.
Developmental evaluation helped convene partners, and create spaces for airing concerns in ways that would never have been anticipated that lead to modify program designs including the importance placed on steering committees as a change agent and the way youth led grants were being structured.
GL: What’s attractive about DE?
NBC: A lot of time and money is spent on evaluation. You get a lot more from DE as it contributes to enhancing the impact of the project. DE helps practitioners to respond to the reality of today’s issues. We know that cookie-cutter methods don’t work. DE allows you to be responsive to change, to improve and evolve to meet the needs of your context.
"We know that cookie-cutter methods don’t work. DE allows you to be responsive to change, to improve and evolve to meet the needs of your context."
GL: What are some of the challenges of using a DE framework?
NBC: There is no recipe. You have to be extremely skilled to adapt to the context. It requires certain kind of people and organization. Learning and risk-taking are a big component, because DE may raise questions that call for trying out different ways of doing things and change is always difficult because it means breaking away from habit. Also, DE is a big time investment and the benefits aren’t always immediately obvious. It’s a never-ending job!
GL: Why do you think DE is an important tool for our current context? Why now?
NBC: As our world becomes more complex, we know that issues are less and less in isolation. We can’t keep doing things as we’ve always done them. We have to be responsive.
Also, I should add that DE isn’t the best tool for all circumstances. It depends on where you are on the adaptive cycle. DE is best suited for when you are in the exploration and development phases when you are creating, developing, or adapting an initiative.
"To be successful with DE, you have to ask yourself: are you ready to go deeper into the issues? Take risks? Create space for people to learn?"
GL: What else?
NBC: I think DE is a culmination of three roles: 1) creating space for pause and reflection; 2) collecting data and information from stakeholders; 3) holding the vision for the change you are trying to create.
To be successful with DE, you have to ask yourself: are you ready to go deeper into the issues? Take risks? Create space for people to learn? DE can only work with learning organizations. It requires the precondition that people want to improve their practice, bring pause, reflection and big picture thinking. It plays the role of the critical friend. With the kinds of issues in the healthy communities movement, I can see how it could be a useful process.
Find out more about developmental evaluation with the resources below or contact us to find out how BCHC uses DE.
Developmental Evaluation Exemplars Principles in Practice (2015)
Edited by Michael Quinn Patton, Kate McKegg, and Nan Wehipeihana
Developmental Evaluation Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use (2010)