Implementing Evaluative Inquiry as Leadership

Individuals writing on and organizing colourful sticky notes on clear display board.

Leaders facilitate change through inquiry and engagement (Bushe, 2011; Burke, 2009).  An approach to inquiry and engagement is through the principles and processes of developmental evaluation (Patton, 2011), applied to emergent and existing intervention programs.  Patton argues the processes of engagement, inquiry, feedback, and reflection facilitate decisions about next steps in the life cycle of an emerging program. New programs under development are typically initiated in response to identified social needs or problems among key stakeholders or a target population, but often there is a lack of clarity on specific goals or what kind of intervention, activities or delivery system would best address those needs. Developmental evaluation (Patton, 2011) is an approach that involves assessing and guiding the actions and activities of interventions, programs or policies when preliminary program plans are first being designed and actions/activities are implemented, or at later points in the life cycle of the program when the organization needs to make a significant adaptation or transformation to better respond to changing dynamic needs of their constituent group, or even a crisis event (e.g., the Covid-19 pandemic). Developmental evaluation is a method of using evaluative processes to facilitate ‘continuous growth’ and “strategic change” and in this manner contributes to enhanced programmatic strategies that meet individual and societal needs (Patton, 2011). 

Evaluative Inquiry for Innovation

Patton (2011) describes five situations in which developmental evaluation is most appropriate:  when there is a need to adapt (continually develop) a program to meet new conditions, to transition a program from a pilot model to scalable and standardized program that will be implemented in multiple sites, to implement programmatic principles into a new program structure, to assess program progress in a complex and dynamic environment and to facilitate program changes in response to a crisis or unexpected events. Implicit in these uses of developmental evaluation are ‘processes of learning’ that support engagement of key stakeholders, new knowledge and insight, decision making and program innovation. This means change, as so eloquently stated by Patton (2011).  

Developmental evaluation supports learning to inform action that makes a difference. This often means changing systems, which involves getting beyond the surface learning to deeper understandings of what’s happening…social innovators and social entrepreneurs are typically trying to bring about fundamental changes in systems, to change the world (p 11). 

Evaluation Facilitates Learning

Developmental evaluation is dependent on a variety of continuous learning processes and outcomes (Sessa, & London, 2015).  Learning leads to new knowledge and understanding which leads to decision making that informs new action steps or interventions for a program or policy. Learning occurs when individuals engage in informal processes of observation, reading, listening, doing, dialoguing with others and reflection, as well as formal data collection of surveying, interviewing, measuring and data analysis. Learning is enhanced when program stakeholders engage with others during the inquiry process as well as during the interpretive or analysis phase; since others introduce new perspectives, questions, purpose and motivation that influence how one sees the issues under investigation.  

The ALEval Conceptual Framework

The Action Learning Evaluation (ALEval) framework was developed as a methodology for implementing processes of stakeholder engagement, inquiry activities, reflection and analysis, strategic direction setting and planning. On a simplistic level, we identify three broad stages of ALEval framework:  a) preparation and development b) strategic planning, and c) program implementation, monitoring and evaluation.  (see Figure 1)

Action Learning and Evaluation Framework

Figure 1

Phase One: Preparation and Development.  The action evaluation and developmental framework begins with preparatory stages of context scanning, focus and framing, initiating stakeholder engagement & inquiry, reflection on action, and identifying direction so as to engage forward

Phase Two: Strategic Planning.   The strategic planning phase involves mobilizing what has been learned in the preparation phase and transitioning to strategic planning of the goals and action plans for the desired program.  This includes planning of program activities and interventions through the use of logic frameworks.

Phase Three: Program Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation. In the monitoring and evaluation stage, evaluators coordinate with program staff to formally implement the programmatic framework or intervention. This is supported by continuous and iterative activities of evaluation monitoring and inquiry with stakeholders, followed by measurement of outputs and outcomes.

Throughout all phases of the evaluation enterprise, efforts are taken to engage stakeholder in continuous inquiry, dialogue and engagement, using feedback and reflection to make decisions while at the same time carrying out formal monitoring and measurement of program activities, outputs and impact on beneficiaries and communities.


Burke, W. (2009). Leading organizational change.  In W. W. Burke, D. G. Lake, & J. W. Paine (Eds.), Organization change: A comprehensive reader (pp. 737–761)Jossey-Bass.   [Available from RRU print collection HD58.8 .O7227 2009]

Bushe, G. R. (2011). Clear leadership: Sustaining real collaboration and partnership at work. Nicholas Brealey.

Patton, M. Q. (2011). Developmental evaluation: Applying complexity concepts to enhance

innovation and use. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Patton (2010)., Patton

Sessa, V. I., & London, M. (2015). Continuous learning in organizations: Individual, group, and organizational perspectives. Psychology Press.