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Design Thinking for Evaluation

Design thinking for evaluation is about expanding possibilities for both design and evaluation together.

Design thinking and evaluation are intimately connected, yet rarely discussed together. When most professional evaluators think of the word ‘design’ they typically think of program design. Design thinking focuses our thoughts on how things are made and that includes evaluations themselves. It is time to connect these two ideas more explicitly.

Designer’s create things that serve a function and these functions add value. Evaluation is about recognizing and assessing value. By bringing evaluation and design together we create connections between both value and value creation at the same time.

Evaluators and Design

What do evaluators and designers have to offer each other? Designers generate value through systematic, creative application of methods and strategies to turn materials into products and services. Evaluators document what value is created and how it is done. Together, designers and evaluators can learn a great deal from each other if they know how to speak each others’ language.

Design Thinking is, in some ways, the language of design. It is an introduction to the thought processes, ideas, and application of craft to the task of creation for value. When evaluators learn this language they can better assess where value is created and how.

By speaking the language of design, evaluators are also better able to articulate the value of evaluation to design. When evaluators can share what they know with designers, products and services improve. Designers are better able to realize their impact and how their creative process yields measurable results. A useful evaluation connects the craft and process of making things with outcomes and outputs more explicitly.

Evaluators can assist designers by embedding evaluation into the design process. One way to do that is to better understand what design thinking is and where evaluation fits within it.

Design and Evaluation

I recently had the opportunity to speak to different groups of evaluators about design thinking. My presentations and workshops at the Canadian Evaluation Society national and Ontario provincial conferences focused on the basics of design thinking for evaluators. The presentation below features some of the basic ideas presented at those workshops. My intention was to introduce evaluators to design thinking and tools to help facilitate its use.

Professional designers might argue that the model presented is too linear. While that is fair, the model is also intended to provide a vehicle to present key ideas. Design is always moving toward a goal, which is a linear idea. The actual practice of design, however, might involve much back-and-forth and non-linear processes. It is important to remember this.

Just like George Box famously said: All models are wrong, but some are useful. It is my hope that this model and explanation are useful to evaluators seeking understanding of the basics of design thinking.

This is a start on a much larger journey.

If you are interested in learning more about design and evaluation, please visit the Cense Academy and watch for upcoming events.

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

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