Developmental evaluators spend much of their time interpreting complex dynamics among people and within systems. To do this well, you can use a variety of frameworks to bring in new ways of thinking about the issues. The frameworks below have value in a wide variety of contexts and come partially from Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use and partially from Spark’s DE practice. Additionally, you will want to identify the frameworks specific to your setting. For example, if you are working with an obesity prevention strategy, you may want to leverage ecological frameworks from public health.
You can also use frameworks to share findings. Introducing findings in the context of a framework can make it easier for your partners to explore the issues and identify actions in response.
Dimensions of Success: The Results/Relationships/Process Triangle
The Results/Process/Relationship Triangle is a tool for thinking about the multiple dimensions of success that need to be balanced for sustainable, long-term change to be possible. Collaborative processes spend time in each of the three, moving between them frequently. Sometimes, however, a process will get stuck on one or another or a leader will become overly focused on one or another. This can be a signal that the process is at risk of not achieving its longer term goals.
- For a thoughtful description of the framework and its use in a leadership context, see Facilitative Leadership: Balancing the Dimensions of Success, by Jamie Harris from Interaction Associates.
Types of Power
Power in a social or political context is the ability of one person to have influence or control over others. It exists in every social dynamic and will be intentionally and unintentionally leveraged by participants. Power can both enable action and constrain the actions possible in a given situation. By exploring the power dynamics, you can help the participants understand how they are arriving at decisions, whose voices are being left out, what might be impeding action, etc.
Understanding why people make the decisions they make can be a powerful way of helping groups think about what to do differently if many of their decisions are proving ineffective, inefficient, or unequal. The human brain works in predictable and limiting ways that social scientists have broken down into a set of cognitive traps or biases. Surfacing which biases are influencing decision-making can help a group become more purposeful in how they make decisions.
- For an understanding of power more generally, the Wikipedia page on Power (Social and Political) is worth a read.
- Power Analysis: Types and Sources of Power lists specific types of power and their sources.
- For a description of cognitive traps and steps to counteract them, see How Shortcuts Cut Us Short: Cognitive Traps in Philanthropic Decision-Making by Tanya Beer and Julia Coffman, published by the Center for Evaluation Innovation.
- For a comprehensive list of biases, see 58 Cognitive Biases that Screw Up Everything We Do by Drake Baer and Gus Lubin, published by the Business Insider and a Wikipedia list of cognitive biases.
Many models can describe the extent to which stakeholders participate in decision-making processes. Some models are specific to youth, others to citizen participation in government decisions, while others are specific to the organization setting. They all have a similar ladder of involvement – from some level of manipulation through informing, consultation, partnership, and eventually delegated power. The models can help you assess the consequences, negative or positive, of how people participate in decision-making.
- Sherry Arnstein’s 1969 Ladder of Citizen Participation is one of the earliest resources in this area and continues to be relevant today.
- Roger Hart’s 1992 report, Children’s Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship adapts the concept of levels of decisions to the context of children and youth participating in adult decision-making.
This comprehensive model of team performance helps in thinking about the stages teams go through as they move from orientating to building trust, goal clarification, and commitment to implementing and eventually to becoming a high-performing team. The model comes with questions to ask and indicators of each stage. It can be a powerful framework to use when exploring the ability of a team of change agents to work effectively together to solve a tough problem.
STAR Model for Understanding Generative Teams
The STAR model seeks to understand how teams can be generative in nature, accomplishing much more than any one individual could do alone. Teams can be of any type, within or across organizations. The model looks at similarities and differences in team members; the extent to which they are talking and listening to one another; whether there is an opportunity to take action together; and whether there is a reason to engage together. Gaps in any of these can result in ineffective or even paralyzed teams that are unable to take action.
- The High Performing Team’s model is described in narrative and video at The Grove’s website.
- For a full description of the STAR model and how to use it, see Be a STAR: A Tool to Assess and Maintain Team Effectiveness published by the Human Systems Dynamics Institute.
Strategies that benefit from DE are adaptive in nature, making change management one of the ongoing issues, particularly when multiple partners are being asked to adapt how they do their work. A variety of change management models help to articulate how change occurs and its potential roadblocks. The models can help you to pay attention to important signals amidst change.
- Lewin’s Change Management Model, described by Mind Tools has three simple steps – ‘unfreeze’ the current environment, change it, and ‘refreeze’ it. While a strategy may remain adaptive over time, there may be elements that are meeting the needs and should be frozen.
- Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model from Kotter International is more complex and can be helpful in thinking about leadership dynamics amid change, visioning, communication needs, and the culture surrounding the change effort.
Much work has been done over the past 60 years to understand how organizations evolve over time and the implications for leaders in those organizations. Understanding organizational lifecycles can help in thinking about whether the dynamics are typical and healthy for the organization or potentially a sign of a problem that could negatively impact the effectiveness of the strategy.
- To understand non-profit lifecycles, see The Trajectories of Organizations in Growth and Decline by John Brothers, published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
There are many different models that can help you understand how cultural differences influence decisions and actions. Understanding the influence of culture can answer questions about perspectives, values, why structures do and do not work, beliefs about the problem, and much more. If you have other frameworks you use to understand culture, please let us know!
The Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions model is helpful in thinking about how values are influenced by culture, and includes an analysis of cultural values from 76 countries.
Interactions between people and organizations occur for many different reasons and in many different ways. Yet, there are predictable patterns to these interactions, both in the motivations for them and how they play out. Frameworks related to social and organizational networks can help you understand the motivators for action and the patterns of action occurring. Below are just a few of the many theories to explore, with some resources to give more details on these and many other theories.
Social capital is the collective value of the social networks that exist between individuals. By value, social capital theories refer to the many ways people engage with each other, including preferential treatment, cooperation between groups and individuals, information sharing, increased trust, etc. Social capital can be thought of as being built through strong ties (close relationships) and weak ties (more distant relationships). It exists in many places, including in communities and organizations.
Social Exchange Theory
Social exchange theory is the idea that self-interested actors become interdependent when they have something of value to each other, leading to a negotiation of whether and how to exchange that value. It explores the role of self-interest not as a negative, but rather as a guiding force of interpersonal relationships necessary to trigger social exchanges.
Theories of reciprocity explore how people tend to respond to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding the initial action. Reciprocity can be thought of as a mediator of self-interest, where individuals will be nicer and more cooperative than might be in their self-interest when engaged positively, but will also be more negative and hostile when engaged negatively.
- For an exploration of multiple theories of why people behave the way they do in small groups, see Network Theory and Small Groups.
- Wikipedia is a source of information for many social and organizational network theories including all of the theories listed above: Social Capital, Social Exchange, and Reciprocity.
- The book Theories of Communication Networks by Peter Monge and Noshir Contractor has a thoughtful and useful exploration of multiple theories that are highly applicable in DE settings. Although most of the resources in the toolkit are freely available on the web, this one is not; however, if you want to delve into this area in any depth, it is worth the purchase.
Many large scale social change efforts where complexity, uncertainty, and systems dynamics all call for developmental evaluation to be part of the work are also engaging in some form of advocacy to change public or organizational policy. A wide variety of frameworks exist to understand policymaking processes and some of them have been explored specifically for evaluation purposes as well.
Advocacy Coalition Framework
This model of the policy process focuses on the engagement of individuals with likeminded others in coalitions that take action in the policy arena. These coalitions are composed of those who share core beliefs about policies, but may or may not be in full agreement about specific nuances of how to solve the problem. The theory explores both how these coalitions function and the environments in which they function, including identifying that the status quo tends to remain the same unless the coalition in power changes.
The multiple streams theory suggests that policy change happens as a result of movement on a policy agenda, the list of issues or problems that policymakers are paying attention to. Moving an idea onto the policy agenda or higher on the agenda occurs as a result of three things:
- Problem prioritization, recognizing that policymakers will pay more attention to one problem than another.
- Proposal prioritization, the process by which proposals are generated, considered, revised, adopted, or rejected.
- Politics, the reality that political and environment factors can change the policy agenda.
The theory proposes that policy windows (opportunities to change policy) open when these three things come into alignment. Advocates can work to create that alignment and can also take advantage of unexpected windows of opportunity.
Social Construction of Target Populations
This framework for understanding policymaking focuses on how policymakers view particular segments of society that may benefit from, or be penalized by, public policy. It includes a simple taxonomy of four types of populations:
- Contenders: Those with power and a negative social construction such as big business and labor unions.
- Advantaged: Those with power and a positive social construction such as small business and homeowners.
- Dependents: Those with no power, but a positive social construction such as children and mothers.
- Deviants: Those with no power and a negative social construction, such as criminals and welfare mothers.
Each group receives different types of policy responses, from policies that are hidden and provide great benefit (Contenders) to policies that appear supportive, but provide little real substantive benefit (Dependents).
Diffusion theory is focused on how innovation moves through policy arenas, including across different jurisdictions and levels of government. It looks at how early adopters initiate the innovation, followed by an early majority, a late majority, and finally the laggards. It explores how the policy innovation gradually becomes socially accepted and is seen as in alignment with values, beliefs, and needs.
- For an exploration of Kingdon’s Multiple Streams theory in the context of evaluation, see Julia Coffman’s article, “Evaluation Based on Theories of the Policy Process” in the Evaluation Exchange.
- Pathways for Change: 10 Theories to Inform Advocacy and Policy Change Efforts by Sarah Stachowiak, published by the Center for Evaluation Innovation introduces most of the theories explored here and many others.
Do you have other frameworks you use in the context of DE? You can contribute frameworks and any new resources to the toolkit. You can also host a page as part of this toolkit to share DE case studies, or your overall approach and tools to DE.