Types of Evaluation

Developmental, formative, and summative make up the three types of evaluation.
Source: Innoweave webinar on Developmental Evaluation, SiG at Waterloo Here to There Consulting Inc. https://mcconnell.app.box.com/s/bun8rkfbx91dbmkf00c7


Developmental evaluation (DE) is a relatively new evaluation methodology that helps to understand the activities of a program within a complex, changing environment (rather than as a fixed evaluation plan with a linear, predictive logic model). It is focused on real-time learning and collection of feedback that informs the ongoing design and implementation of an initiative. In this way, it is focused more on strategic learning than measuring against a fixed outcome.
For a social innovation lab context, we suggest using elements of – or building on – developmental evaluation as a methodology. Given that a social innovation lab focuses on understanding a complex problem, iterating and experimenting (in the form of prototypes) towards a solution, and then iterating those solutions to scale, we will focus on prototype evaluation as a way to measure the change you want to bring about.
DE is a contingency-based evaluation: This type of evaluation is where we match the evaluation process and design to the nature of the situation.
According to Michael Quinn-Patton, there are five types of Developmental Evaluation:
  1. 1.
    Ongoing development in adapting a project, program, strategy, policy, or other innovative initiative to new conditions in complex dynamic systems.
  2. 2.
    Pre-formative development of a potentially scalable innovation to the point where it is ready for traditional formative and summative evaluation.
  3. 3.
    Adapting effective general principles to a new context as ideas and innovations are taken from elsewhere and developed within a new setting.
  4. 4.
    Major systems change and cross-scale developmental evaluation, providing feedback about how major systems change is unfolding, evidence of emergent tipping points, and/or how an innovation is or may need to be changed and adapted as it is taken to scale.
  5. 5.
    Developing a rapid response in the face of a sudden major change or a crisis, like a natural disaster or financial melt-down.
It is important to distinguish developmental evaluation from other forms of evaluation: formative and summative evaluation.


Formative evaluation (sometimes called internal evaluation) is evaluation that helps to improve an initiative. It generally takes place before or during an initiative to help to refine a program’s design or implementation. It is generally used for new programs, or progress monitoring of ongoing programs.


Summative evaluation generates insights about the merit or worth of an initiative, where findings are used to help decide whether a program should be continued or modified. It is generally used at the end of an initiative to review long-term progress on program goals and objectives.