Developmental evaluation applies complexity concepts and systems thinking to enhance innovation and support evaluation use when the path forward in uncertain.

This is the niche of developmental evaluation. Developmental evaluation is:

  • Dynamic and emergent—able to flexibly fit the changing circumstances, skills, knowledge and capacity of communities and initiatives.
  • Responsive to context—cognizant of the historical and cultural contexts of communities and initiatives, as well as being able to adapt to the pace at which initiatives and communities are operating.
  • Able to operate at different levels of the system—DE can build evaluation capacity as well as support a robust evaluative process that can say something about the worth and value of things.
  • Participative—people in the communities and initiatives feel part of the evaluation process. Systems change, transformative efforts high-stakes for those in the midst of them, and they didn’t want to be at arm’s length from the evaluation.
  • Transparent, relational and use-orientated—just as initiatives are often founded on relational premises, so too should be the evaluation approach. A "no surprises," high-trust approach is essential.

Developmental evaluation questions might include: What are/is the data telling a leader about their program? What are the critical methods of measuring impact? What are the questions to ask during crucial developmental phases of a program/campaign that can shape the outcomes?


Explore these resources to understand the basics of DE:

Books and Articles

A Practitioners Guide to Developmental EvaluationMcConnell Family Foundation and IICRD, 2010

A primer guide to the “what, why, where, who, and how” of DE, this document outlines the basic tenets to the emergent practice and how it can benefit an evaluator’s approach to evaluation. See an accompanying Powerpoint Presentation by Michael Quinn Patton here.


A Developmental Evaluation PrimerGamble, 2008

The purpose of this resource is to introduce the concept of DE to potential users and to provide some techniques and practices that could be utilized.


Evaluation for the Way We WorkQuinn Patton, 2006

A high-level summary and synopsis of DE and how it differs from traditional program evaluation models.  



Better Evaluation

BetterEvaluation is an international collaboration evaluation oriented towards empowering individuals with the ability to choose and use evaluation successfully. A paradigm-crossing and comprehensive evaluation website, it features substantial tools and resources related to developmental evaluation.