Resourcing Developmental Evaluation: The First Trap

In a recent post on our Developmental Evaluation (DE) in their work. In this second in our series on DE and its traps, we look at the issue of resourcing.

Like the image above, resourcing looks relatively simple at a distance, through a frame that constrains what you see in front of you. Most evaluations are designed through this kind of perspective. Developmental Evaluation requires a different kind of frame and the resourcing to support its deployment.

We see four keys to resourcing a DE.


Let’s first get the money issue out of the way first.

Evaluation budgets are recommended to be set at 5 – 10% of a programmatic budget, although it’s commonly acknowledged that real budgeting falls often falls far short of this in practice. Indeed, some suggest the percentage of expenses should be higher, while The Hewlett Foundation recently published a benchmarking study where it found it was able to spend much less on its evaluation to achieve impact (largely due to its size and internal capacity).

Whatever percentage an organization seeks to devote to its evaluation budget, that budget almost certainly must increase for a DE. The reason has to do with the additional human and time resources and related coordination costs associated with doing DE work. The methods and tools associated with a DE may not differ much from a conventional evaluation, but their deployment and the kind of sense-making that comes from the data that they generate is what sets it apart and require resources.

We are reluctant to recommend a firm percentage number, rather we encourage prospective evaluands (i.e., clients, partners) to consider the question:

What are you hiring a Developmental Evaluation to do for you?

This gets at the matter of purpose. DE is about supporting strategic decision-making for innovation, thus the true budget for implementing a DE must include the time, personnel, and associated resources that can support the integration of what emerges through a DE into the program, service, or product developmental stream. That requires energy, focus, and that adds to the total cost.

We suggest you consider doubling your budget considerations at a minimum, although keep in mind that some of that cost might come from budget lines previously earmarked for strategy development, program development, and design so the overall value of DE is likely far higher than that of a standard program evaluation.


While the cost of a DE might be higher, the biggest ‘expense’ might be time. Some programs like the idea of a ‘plug-and-play’ evaluation where an evaluator designs and evaluation and then largely disappears once it’s been approved and initiated. That doesn’t work for DE.

DE requires participation from the program staff, management, and potentially other stakeholders to work. An external consultant cannot, no matter how skilled or knowledgeable, provide all the answers to the questions that a DE will generate and make the decisions necessary to develop a program or process. Questions will come from the data collected — usually in some mixed method form — that illuminates some emergent, dynamic properties in a program that, because of their very complexity, require diverse perspectives to understand. This requires that those perspectives be gathered, facilitated, and integrated into a set of decisions that can be taken forth.

This time requirement will need to match the type of data collected in the evaluation design, the regularity of the meetings, and the complexity of the context over and above what is necessary to gather, analyze, and otherwise manage the data.

The biggest reason why organizations fail at their DE efforts and to innovate more broadly is that they do not invest in the time required to truly learn.


Who is best suited to your evaluation? Do you bring in an external consultant or stick with an internal evaluator? We recommend both, together. External evaluators bring the emotional and perceptual distance to see patterns and activities within the organization that may be ‘hidden in plain sight’ to those within the organization. However, this distance also means that the external evaluator likely misses out on some of the nuance and context that is absolutely critical to supporting a DE — something that a well-placed internal evaluator might find accessible.

DE is relatively new and the processes, tools, and outcomes associated with sustained innovation are also relatively unfamiliar to many organizations. Add to this the need for ongoing learning and organizational development through the process of DE and it becomes easier to see why bringing in a skilled consultant matters. DE requires expertise in evaluation methods and tools, group facilitation, behavioural science, practical knowledge of complexity, design, and organizational development — whether within a person or group.

However, what makes DE most effective at supporting innovation is a sustained commitment to nurturing these skills and abilities within the organization. For that reason, we recommend bringing on consultants who can not only do DE but help their clients to learn DE and build their capacity for learning through evaluation and for evidence-informed design.

If an organization can build those capacities, they are set up for innovation success (which includes learning from failure).


Time, care (expertise), and attention are the three non-financial resources required for DE and innovation. Focus — the application of attention to something — cannot be marshaled periodically for DE to be a success; it has to be ongoing. While DE does involve specific milestones and benchmarks, it is principally about viewing a program as a living enterprise. Thus, one has to treat it like having a pet that requires continued engagement, not as a fence that requires a coat of paint every few years.

Ongoing learning happens by design. As an organization, you need to provide the means for your staff and leadership to truly learn. We have consistently encountered ‘knowledge organizations’ for which their primary product is new knowledge where staff and senior management spend less than an hour per week on activities such as reviewing literature, training, or synthesizing educational material. That is an absence of praxis — learning while doing — and a lack of focus on what the organization is all about.

To do DE requires a focus on learning, commitment to using data to inform decisions, and a willingness to deal with uncertainty. These requirements are not one-time events but must be managed as part of an ongoing process as part of building a culture of evaluation.

Resources for resourcing DE

Are you resourced for Developmental Evaluation?

If you are or require some help in preparing for one, contact us and we can show you new ways to build your capacity for innovation while expanding your possibilities to learn and grow.


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