Seeing Innovation Differently: The Role of Evaluation

See what you do through new eyes

We begin a series called the Innovators Secret Advantage by starting with a simple, but powerful premise: perspective is everything

This is based on a phrase that we use as our guide at Cense

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

Evaluation is most commonly seen as a means to assess the merit, worth, and significance of a program, service, or product. Evaluation can focus on implementations and learning, how a program works, outcomes and outputs, or some combination of these things. This is how most see evaluation. 

However, for innovators — those looking to develop and apply something new into a situation — evaluation offers so much more when approached as a tool for innovation. This is less about the method and much more about how we treat the methods. This is where we need our new eyes. 

Evaluation = Feedback

What evaluation offers to innovators is feedback, which plays a central role in complex systems. These are the kind of systems that most human services exist to various degrees. Complexity creates conditions for innovators where it’s difficult to know what is happening with a high degree of certainty. Feedback allows innovators to ‘take the temperature’ of what they are ‘cooking up’ to see if they need to make changes. These changes might look like doing more of something, adding things, or perhaps removing something. It’s very much like making a soup. 

Evaluation is the means of obtaining feedback and doing it systematically. It allows innovators to avoid bias, mis-perceptions in the data, and overcome blind spots that get created. Innovators are focusing on their product, service, or program itself, but with a slight shift in perception toward feedback systems, and they can gain much more in the way they approach their work.  

Evaluation is the means of providing fuel for innovation, particularly as an idea moves from concept to prototype. Data, systematically collected and focused, along with the analysis and sensemaking that comes with it, plays a vital role in determining how ready an innovation is for deployment or how appropriate it is for scaling upward or outward. 

Seeing With New Eyes

Seeing with new eyes begins by asking some questions. The first three questions foster evaluative thinking, not just new ways of seeing: 

  • What is going? 
  • What is new?
  • What does it mean?

The next question is: What are you hiring innovation to do for you? The answers to these questions are what can inspire that new way to see the work being done. 

The final set of questions to give you those new eyes come from mindful reflection. Organizational mindfulness is not some new age meditation technique, but a scientifically-supported approach to paying attention across the organization to learn what is being done and how it connects with purpose and values. 

Engaging these questions will set the stage for using evaluation as a means to help innovations fulfill their true promise. In the weeks ahead, we’ll look at how this is done and what your new eyes can be trained to look at. 

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