Innovating in human systems requires more than ideas, resources, clever strategy or even new thinking; it requires a new mindset.
A mindset is a concept that psychologist Carol Dweck has explored in-depth and described a thinking orientation to the world. It’s not set in stone, but rather a lens through which we see our situations and the possibilities and challenges that they present to us. While Dweck has identified particular mindsets that shape how individuals use their brains, we’d like to explore another mindset here: a developmental one.
Over at Censemaking, Cameron Norman considered the role of the developmental mindset and how organizations engage with developmental evaluation. In that post, Norman argues that developmental evaluation is not possible without having the right mindset in place and we couldn’t agree more.
The critical step toward a developmental mindset is considering viewing programs as a part of living systems. If a program involves a high variety of information and feedback, interacts with other programs and social forces, and exists in a space where there are ongoing disruptions and change, then it is what we would consider complex. If it is complex, then it fits the kind of scenario argued in Censemaking.
To take an evolutionary or developmental mindset requires first viewing programs as dynamic, rather than static. This perspective involves asking different evaluative questions. Static programs allow for questions like:
- How effective is [the program] at achieving [specific target]?
- How well does [the program] fit the industry-standard benchmark?
- What is the impact of [the program] on [specific behaviour]?
- How did [program component] contribute to [specific outcome]?
These questions allow for answers that have verifiable correlates with expected outcomes, a theory of change and industry benchmarks.
Dynamic programs require asking more sophisticated, nuanced questions that might produce less precise answers, but are more useful in helping a program to develop and evolve. These include:
- What outcomes are generated through [the program] at this given moment?
- How have the outputs and possible outcomes of [the program] differed over time?
- How is [the program] interacting with its social system and what new behaviours and activities are generated through those interactions?
- What new, beneficial attractors (clusters of organized activity) have established that are attributed in part to the involvement of [the program]?
Seeing opportunity in complexity
A review of the questions above might seem less satisfying in some ways, but they also reveal possibilities. It is why developmental evaluation (DE) is known as evaluation for innovation. DE provides the feedback necessary to understand the role(s) that a program is playing within a system and what comes from the interaction between people, programs, and systems. Thus, DE is a valuable part of the innovation process by allowing organizations to test out ideas and see what kind of influence they have in the world and make adaptations and modifications to it as the conditions, situations, and requirements evolve.
DE is about evaluating programs as part of living systems. This approach recognizes that programs exist in dynamic systems akin to the phrase ‘the river I stand in is not the river I step in’ from Heraclitus. This mindset recognizes that your market competition will change as you change and react to your actions, just as your organization might have to react to their actions.
DE doesn’t solve the problem, but it does allow for new opportunities to be discovered. By asking different questions to see things different, you can see these opportunities, too.
To learn more about developmental evaluation and how the right approach to generating feedback and learning about your programs can help your organization contact us for a consultation.