Creative Evaluation Essential Threads

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Michael Quinn Patton's best-selling Utilization-Focused Evaluation was a game changer for me as an evaluator. This briefer book (although still 400+ pages!) provides an overall framework and breaks the framework down into an essential checklist that walks evaluators through the steps necessary for designing and conducting evaluations that actually get used. Not only were the steps useful in helping me think through an evaluation from start to finish, but it helped me do so in the settings I was working in— complex adaptive systems—that require understandings about systems thinking and complexity concepts. I’ve pulled this book of my shelf many times since 2011.

I have done many creative evaluations by now, and they have all been different. Is there a way, I wondered, to describe it as one coherent, albeit complex and ever-changing, process? I let this question bounce around in the deepest parts of my mind and it came to one night. I work up early (something I rarely do), and wrote down 27 steps to doing creative evaluation. It was exhilarating and felt like I was on the right path.

Two months later, after a lot of reflection and revisions, I’ve narrowed it down to 24 essential threads. The move from steps to threads is meant to imply that these threads will be woven together to support change, rather than outlining a narrow, sequential, and linear path. The twenty-four threads fall into five areas:

1: Strengthen Foundations

2: Assess Fit & Build Readiness

3: Co-Create Vision & Learning Plan

4: Act

5: Cultivate

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nora mj