Summer reading 2 Many of you have numerous lists for summer reading (NY Times, NPR, Goodreads, Amazon, others…). My question is what are you reading to further your knowledge about evaluation? Perhaps you are; perhaps you’re not. So I’m going to give you one more list ūüôā …yes, it is evaluative.

If you want something light:  Regression to the Mean by Ernest R. to the mean It is a novel. It is about evaluation. It explains what evaluators do from a political perspective.

If you want something qualitative:  Qualitative Data Analysis by Matthew B. Miles, A. Michael Huberman, and Johnny Saldana.Qualitative data analysis ed. 3 It is the new 3rd edition which Sage (the publisher) commissioned. A good thing, too, as both Miles and Huberman are no longer able to do a revision. My new go-to book.

If you want something on needs assessment: Bridging the Gap Between Asset/Capacity Building and Needs Assessment by James W. Altschuld. Bridging the Gap-altschuld Most needs assessments start with what is lacking (i.e., needed); this proposes that an assessment start with what is present (assets) and build  from there, and in the process, meeting needs.

If you want something on higher education:  College (Un)bound by Jeff unbound by jeffry selingo  The state of higher education and some viable alternatives by a contributing editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Yes, it is evaluative.

Most of these I’ve mentioned before. I’ve read the above. I recommend them.

Continue reading

Recently, I received the following comment: “In today’s world it’s virtually impossible to keep up with facebook, twitter, news, tv, movies email, texts, etc.”

It was in response to a blog post about making a difference. How do you know? Given that most of what was suggested happens in the virtual world, the play on words is interesting. How is it impossible–because there is too much information? because you are too distracted by the virtual part of all the information and get lost? because virtuality it is not clearly understood? because of something else?¬† I personally find I can get lost when I spend all day on line (virtual). It isn’t real, actually. I have no sense of what is happening and what isn’t happening. Even with the feeds from news lines, I find I have to double check my facts. Yet even as I say this, the virtual is expanding (go here). I have heard about Web 2.0; hadn’t heard about IoE (Internet of Everything)…the CEO of Cisco (John Chambers) stated that the IoE depends on the architecture, the systems integration. Is virtual the way of the world? It certainly isn’t the future any more; it is now. I have to ask, though, what about people…Given that much evaluation is now being done with the use of virtual tools, are we really understanding what difference is being made? Or are there just connections?

The individual continued with the comment by saying, “Keep up your small voice. Some are listening.” Those “listening” are certainly reflected in the number of comments I received on the posts about making a difference in the last two days (over 45).¬† This may certainly be a way of engaging; I know it is outreaching. It is only my small voice; it is rewarding to know that some are listening/reading. Even if they only stay a short while.

My two cents. (my small voice).StillSmallVoice


To quote Annie Leonard, the word sustainability “gets thrown around all the time now and it’s not always clear what is intended.” She goes on to talk about the UN World Commission on Environment and Development definition of sustainable development as “…meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” That is a good definition, I think. Yet it is missing something which (according to Leonard) are equity and justice. Robert Gilman defines sustainability as “…equity over time”. She says (and I agree), quoting the Center for Sustainable Communities, that sustainability “consider(s) the whole instead of the specific. Sustainability emphasizes relationships rather than pieces in isolation.”

Now, given that evaluation to be effective must look at the whole (here is a good example of when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts); and

given that evaluation works to find out information that will benefit both the current and future generations; and

given that evaluation works to determine what difference was made in people’s lives, it seems to me that there is a relationship here that needs to be acknowledged.

A colleague of mine works in youth development and loves the job. My colleague has to determine the value of the program; the program needs to be evaluated. Yet, if the work is only for the program (i.e., the pieces in isolation) not the whole, what good is it that my colleague loves the job? The relationship between the youth involved and the bigger picture is truly more than can probably be captured in any evaluation. Still, the evaluation needs to be planned to consider that, even if the resources are limited (that is the “probably” above).

So yes, evaluation has something to learn from sustainability. Certainly sustainability can learn from evaluation (and economics, and equity, and ecology…).


I’ve been, once again, getting comments about making a difference. I thought I’d post some of those comments (I’ve copied and pasted comments so the spelling is as it appears in the original text):

  • …every blog post makes a difference in a way or in another. You can answer at your questions just seeing how many comments are here, how many people are interested in answering you. I think you are a good person, and everything said by a good person is always a life’s lesson to keep in mind. Thank you for every helpful information, good job!

  • It may be a temporary difference – i.e. limited on the time, but of course that at least for some seconds your writing are touching the life’s of all your readers.

  • Every blog or article makes a difference to those who read it! They might strongly agree or disagree with what the blogger has wrote, making a difference by reafirming there opinion or being outraged that somebody else looks at ideas different to them! Keep writing Molly, you are making people think, which is always good
  • I think the best measure of the effectiveness of a blog are the number of shares it gets, as people that found something useful in it tend to want to share with others.

  • …I have written quite a bit about this topic and challenge that bloggers face and the bottom line is that you really can’t measure the value.¬† Sure I think asking for responses like you did might help you see a bit of it, but the reality is 99.9% of people will never comment.¬† As such, we as bloggers have to remember that each pageview is a real person who was on our site and who was impacted by what we wrote!

  • ¬†Blogs are probably the best tool for engaging a customer in todays times.

My question: are blogs engaging readers or are they only outreach, even if the blog is read?

P.S. I also got a lot of comments about my analytics post…for next time.



Leonard, A. (2011). Story of Stuff. NY: Free Press.story of stuff (good book–worth the read)

Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). NY: UN World Commission on Environment and Development.

Gilman, R., Director, Context Institute.

  • He says:¬† Sustainability is equity over time.¬† As a value, it refers to giving equal weight in your decisions to the future as well as the present.¬† You might think of it as extending the Golden Rule through time, so that you do unto future generations (as well as to your present fellow beings) as you would have them do unto you.

Center for Sustainable Communities is quoted in a variety of places:;, among others.

  • The entire definition is: Sustainability is part of a trend to…consider the whole instead of the specific. Sustainability emphasizes relationships rather than pieces in isolation…Sustainability is not about regressing to primitive living conditions. It is about understanding our situation, and developing as communities in ways that are equitable, and make sense ecologically and economically.


Warning:  This post may contain information that is controversial .

Schools (local public schools) were closed (still are).

The University (which never closes) was closed for four days (now open).

The snow kept falling and falling and falling.  Snow in corvallis February 2014.jpg (Thank you Sandra Thiesen for the photo.)

Eighteen inches.  Then freezing rain.  It is a mess (although as I write this, the sun is shining, and it is 39F and supposed to get to 45F by this afternoon).

This is a complex messy system (thank you Dave Bella).¬† It isn’t getting better.¬† This is the second snow Corvallis has experienced in the same number of months, with increasing amounts.

It rains in the valley in Oregon; IT DOES NOT SNOW.

Another example of a complex messy system is what is happening in the UK. 

These are examples extreme events; examples of climate chaos.

Evaluating complex messy systems is not easy.¬† There are many parts.¬† If you hold constant one part, what happens to the others?¬† If you don’t hold constant one part, what happens to the rest of the system?.¬† Systems thinking and systems evaluation has come of age with the 21st century; there were always people who viewed the world as a system; one part linked to another, indivisible.¬† Soft systems theory dates back to at least von Bertalanffy who developed general systems theory and published the book by the same name in 1968general systems theory (ISBN 0-8076-0453-4).

One way to view systems is in this photo (compliments of Wikipedia) Systems_thinking_about_the_society.svg.

Evaluating systems is complicated and complex.

Bob Williams, along with Iraj Imam, edited the volume Systems Concepts in EvaluationSystems_Concepts in evaluation_pb (2007), and along with Richard Hummelbrunner,¬†¬† wrote the volume Systems Concepts in Action: A Practitioner’s Toolkit¬† systems concepts--tool kit (2010).¬† He is a leader in systems and evaluation.

These two books relate to my political statement at the beginning and complex messy systems.¬† According to Amazon, the second book “explores the application of systems ideas to investigate, evaluate, and intervene in complex and messy situations”.

If you think your program works in isolation, think again.¬† If you think your program doesn’t influence other programs, individuals, stakeholders, think again.¬† You work in a complex messy system. Because you work in a complex messy system, you might want to simplify the situation (I know I do); only you can’t.¬† You have to work within the system.

Might be worth while to get von Bertalanffy’s book; might be worth while to get Williams books; might be worth while to get¬† a copy of Gunderson and Holling book¬† Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Systems of Humans and Nature.panarchy

After all, nature is a complex messy system.

Miscellaneous thought 1.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a long time friend of mine.¬† When we stopped and calculated (which we don’t do very often), we realized that we have know each other since 1981.¬† We met at the first AEA (only it wasn’t AEA then) conference in Austin, TX.¬† I was a graduate student; my friend was a practicing professional/academic.¬† Although we were initially talking about other things evaluation; I asked my friend to look at an evaluation form I was developing.¬† I truly believe that having other eyes (a pilot if you will) view the document helps.¬† It certainly did in this case.¬† I feel really good about the form.¬† In the course of the conversation, my friend advocated strongly for a odd numbered scales.¬† My friend had good reasons, specifically

1) It tends to force more comparisons on the respondents; and

2)  if you haven’t given me a neutral  point I tend to mess up the scale on purpose because you are limiting my ability to tell you what I am thinking.

I, of course, had an opposing view (rule number 8–question authority).¬† I said, ” My personal preference is an even number scale to avoid a mid-point.¬† This is important because I want to know if the framework¬†(of the program in question) I provided worked well with the group and a mid-point would provide the respondent with a neutral point of view, not a working or not working opinion.¬†¬† An even number (in my case four points) can be divided into working and not working halves.¬† When I‚Äôm offered a middle point, I tend to circle that because folks really don‚Äôt want to know what I‚Äôm thinking.¬† By giving me an opt out/neutral/neither for or against option they are not asking my opinion or view point.”

Recently, I came across an aea365 post on just this topic.¬† Although this specific post was talking about Likert scales, it applies to all scaling that uses a range of numbers (as my friend pointed out).¬† The authors sum up their views with this comment, “There isn‚Äôt a simple rule regarding when to use odd or even, ultimately that decision should be informed by (a) your survey topic, (b) what you know about your respondents, (c) how you plan to administer the survey, and (d) your purpose. Take time to consider these four elements coupled with the advantages and disadvantages of odd/even, and you will likely reach a decision that works best for you.”¬† (Certainly knowing my friend like I do, I would be suspicious of responses that my friend submitted.)¬† Although they list advantages and disadvantages for odd and even responses, I think there are other advantages and disadvantages that they did not mentioned yet are summed up in their concluding sentence.

Miscellaneous thought 2.

I’m reading the new edition of Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA).¬† Qualitative data analysis ed. 3¬† This has always been my go to book for QDA and I was very sad when I learned that both of the original authors had died.¬† The new author, Johnny Saldana (who is also the author of The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researcherscoding manual--johnny saldana),¬†talks (in the third person plural, active voice) about being a pragmatic realist.¬† That is an interesting concept.¬† They (because the new author includes the previous authors in his statement) say “that social phenomena exist not only in the mind but also in the world–and that some reasonably stable relationships can be found among the idiosyncratic messiness of life.” ¬†Although I had never used those exact words before, I agree.¬† It is nice to know the label that applies to my world view.¬† Life is full of idiosyncratic messiness; probably why I think systems thinking is so important.¬† I’m reading this volume because I’ve been asked to write the review of one of my favorite books.¬† We will see if I can get through it between now and July 1 when the draft of the review is due.¬† Probably aught to pair it with Saldana’s other book; won’t happen between now and July 1.

I’m involved in evaluating a program that is developing as it evolves.¬† There is some urgency to get predetermined, clear, and measurable outcomes to report to the administration.¬† Typically, I wouldn’t resist (see resistance post) this mandate; only this program doesn’t lend itself to this approach.¬† Because this program is developing as it is implemented, it can’t easily be rolled out to all 36 counties in Oregon at once, as much as administration would love to see that happen.¬† So what can we do?

We can document the principles that drive the program and use them to stage the implementation across the state.

We can identify the factors that tell us that the area is ready to implement the program (i.e., the readiness factors).

We can share lessons learned with key stakeholders in potential implementation areas.

These are the approaches that Michael Patton’s Developmental Evaluation advocate.¬† Michael says, “Developmental evaluation is designed to be congruent with and nurture developmental, emergent, innovative, and trans-formative processes.” I had the good fortune to talk with Michael about this program in light of these processes.¬† He indicated that identifying principles not a model supports developmental evaluation and a program in development.¬† By using underlying principles, we inform expansion.¬† Can these principles be coded…yes.¬† Are they outcome indicators…possibly.¬† Are they outcome indicators in the summative sense of the word?¬† Nope.¬† Not even close.¬† These principles, however, can help the program people roll out the next phase/wave of the program.

As an evaluator, employing developmental evaluation, do I ignore what is happening on the ground–at each phase of the program implementation.¬† Not a chance.¬† I need to encourage the program people at that level to identify clear and measurable outcomes–because from those clear and measurable outcomes will come the principles needed for the next phase.¬† (This is a good example of the complexity concepts that Michael talks about in DE and are the foundation for systems thinking.)¬† The readiness factors will also become clear when looking at individual sites.¬† From this view, we can learn a lot–we can apply what we have learned and, hopefully, avoid similar mistakes.¬† Will mistakes still occur?¬† Yes.¬† Is it important that those lessons are heeded; shared with administrators; and used to identify readiness factors when the program is going to be implemented in a new site?¬† Yes.¬† Is this process filled with ambiguity?¬† You bet.¬† No one said it would be easy to make a difference.

We are learning as we go–that is the developmental aspect of this evaluation and this program.

Last Wednesday, I had the privilege to attend the OPEN (Oregon Program Evaluators Network) annual meeting.

Michael Quinn Patton, the key note speaker, talked about  developmental evaluation and

utilization focused evaluation.¬† Utilization Focused Evaluation makes sense–use by intended users.

Developmental Evaluation, on the other hand, needs some discussion.

The way Michael tells the story (he teaches a lot through story) is this:

“I had a standard 5-year contract with a community leadership program that specified 2 1/2 years of formative evaluation for program improvement to be followed by 2 1/2 years of summative evaluation that would lead to an overall decision about whether the program was effective. ” ¬† After 2 1/2 years, Michael called for the summative evaluation to begin.¬† The director¬† was adamant, “We can’t stand still for 2 years.¬† Let’s keep doing formative evaluation.¬† We want to keep improving the program… (I) Never (want to do a summative evaluation)”…if it means standardizing the program.¬† We want to keep developing and changing.”¬† He looked at Michael sternly, challengingly.¬† “Formative evaluation!¬† Summative evaluation! Is that all you evaluators have to offer?” Michael hemmed and hawed and said, “I suppose we could do…ummm…we could do…ummm…well, we might do, you know…we could try developmental evaluation!” Not knowing what that was, the director asked “What’s that?”¬† Michael responded, “It’s where you, ummm, keep developing.”¬† Developmental evaluation was born.

The evaluation field offered, until now, two global approaches to evaluation, formative for program improvement and summative to make an overall judgment of merit and worth.¬† Now, developmental evaluation (DE) offers another approach, one which is relevant to social innovators looking to bring about major social change.¬† It takes into consideration systems theory, complexity concepts, uncertainty principles,¬† nonlinearity, and emergence.¬† DE acknowledges that resistance and push back are likely when change happens.¬† Developmental evaluation recognized that change brings turbulence and suggests ways that “adapts to the realities of complex nonlinear dynamics rather than trying to impose order and certainty on a disorderly and uncertain world” (Patton, 2011).¬† Social innovators recognize that outcomes will emerge as the program moves forward and to predefine outcomes limits the vision.

Michael has used the art of Mark M. Rogers to illustrate the point.¬† The cartoon has two early humans, one with what I would call a wheel, albeit primitive, who is saying, “No go.¬† The evaluation committee said it doesn’t meet utility specs.¬† They want something linear, stable, controllable, and targeted to reach a pre-set destination.¬† They couldn’t see any use for this (the wheel).”

For Extension professionals who are delivering programs designed to lead to a specific change, DE may not be useful.  For those Extension professionals who vision something different, DE may be the answer.  I think DE is worth a look.

Look for my next post after October 14; I’ll be out of the office until then.

Patton, M. Q. (2011) Developmental Evaluation. NY: Guilford Press.

There are a three topics on which I want to touch today.

  • Focus group participant composition
  • Systems diagrams
  • Evaluation report usePatton's utilization focused evaluation

In reverse order:

Evaluation use: I neglected to mention Michael Quinn Patton’s book on evaluation use. Patton has advocated use before most everyone else.¬† The title of his book¬† is Utilization-Focused Evaluation. The 4th edition is available from the publisher (Sage) or from Amazon (and if I knew how to insert links to those sites, I’d do it…another lesson…).

cartoon of systems diagramSystems diagrams: I had the opportunity last week to work with a group of Extension faculty all involved in Watershed Education (called the WE Team). This was an exciting experience for me. I helped them visualize what their concept of the WE Team looked like using the systems tool of drawing a systems diagram. This is an exercise whereby individuals or small groups quickly draw a visualization of a system (in this case the WE Team).  This is not art; it is not realistic; it is only a representation from one perspective.

This is a useful tool for evaluators because it can help evaluators see where there are opportunities for evaluation; where there are opportunities for leverage; and where there there might be resistance to change (force fields). generic systems diagramIt also helps evaluators see relationships and feedback loops. I have done workshops on using systems tools in evaluating multi-site systems (of which a systems diagram is one tool) with Andrea Hegedus for the American Evaluation Association. Although this isn’t the diagram the WE Team created, it is an example of what a system diagram could look like. I used the soft ware called Inspiration to create the WE Team diagram. Inspiration has a free 30- day download¬† and it is inexpensive (the download¬† for V. 9 is $69.00).

Focus group participant composition.

The composition of focus groups is very important if you want to get data that you can use AND that answers your study question(s). Focus groups tend to be homogeneous, with variations to allow for differing opinions. Since the purpose of the focus group is to elicit in-depth opinions, it is important to compose the group with similar demographics (depending on your topic) in

  • age
  • occupation
  • use of program
  • gender
  • background

Comfort and use drive the composition. More on this later.