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Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use Paperback – Jun 15 2010
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"There is a real hunger for this book among social innovators, funders, policymakers, and educators. The book is sure to become dog-eared as it is read, used, and reread to help evaluators conduct their work in a manner consistent with the complexity of the challenges they are addressing."--Brenda Zimmerman, PhD, Director, Health Industry Management Program, Schulich School of Business, York University, Canada
"In true Michael Quinn Patton style, this book successfully extends both the theory and practice of evaluation in significant and timely ways. Solutions to the world’s most pressing social problems are neither predictable nor known; developmental evaluation is just what the field needs to evaluate the complex realities of today’s organizations and communities. This book is a 'must read' for anyone committed to understanding how, where, when, and for whom social innovations are achieving their goals."--Hallie Preskill, PhD, Executive Director, Strategic Learning and Evaluation Center, FSG Social Impact Advisors, Seattle, Washington
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Having stuffed evaluation into two neatly labeled boxes, Formative and Summative evaluation, Patton outlines the need for thinking outside the box. He introduces many fine concepts including emergence and systems thinking but then proceeds to revert to creating a new box with rigid boundaries and labels this new box Developmental Evaluation.
Now we have three neat boxes to choose from and spend time musing over which is the appropriate box for a particular evaluation.
Very disappointing! Why do we need a Phd thesis to tell us that life is messy or the difference between simple, complicated and complex? Why is the author so surprised by everyday truths?
The concepts in the book while valid, remain disconnected and separated out and the author clearly needs neat simple solutions that are defined, confined and documented by academics.
What is really missing in the book is awareness, a true openness to discovery, a large splash of humility and a commitment to accountability. So much could be learned from Paulo Freire and his Praxis concept or from Jane Vella's great book "How do They know They know" yet neither get a mention.
The greatest asset with this book is that it gives the evaluator permission and the authority from academia to move from the twin cells of Formative and Summative Evaluation for brief excursions into the defined and confined exercise yard now claimed and named as Developmental Evaluation. So sad that we need this permission to move towards reality !
PROS: What I appreciate most about Patton's developmental approach is that it applies nicely to navigating messy, real-world situations where folks are building new programs in changing environments and really don't know what's likely to work and what isn't. The developmental approach embraces the idea that we do the best we can in these situations, recognizing that we can collect and use feedback along the way to figure out what works, what doesn't and to change accordingly. The approach also acknowledges that it's often unrealistic to "freeze" a program to evaluate it. Overall, Patton's wealth of experience comes through in a text that is filled with rich analysis and sprinkled liberally with useful examples and meaningful insights of when and where the approach can be used. In addition, there are good summaries after each chapter and readers in a hurry may want to skim these first to find the parts most relevant to them.
CONS: Though well written, this is not a breezy read. The text is focused on practical matters but the writing style will strike some as "academic." Patton also takes a number of tangents to highlight issues he believes are relevant. While I generally appreciated these side trips and reasons for them, it's worth noting that those looking for a how-to book shouldn't expect a step-by-step flow to the discussion. Finally, I agree with a previous reviewer who noted that Patton takes a great deal of time providing rationales for some points in the book which seemed almost obvious. My sense here is that he does this b/c he's writing for several audiences at once. One of these likely consists of traditional evaluators who may see developmental evaluation as some kind of abomination. Where the text appears to go overboard in defending the devel approach, it's probably just a bit of armor plating to ensure that critics see and understand the rigor underpinning the approach and under what circumstances it's sensible to use.
To wrap up, there are several good and free primers on developmental evaluation out there (for example, Preskill & Beer), but if you're looking to go in depth on the topic, Patton's book is well worth the time.
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