Evaluation is an activity. Evaluative thinking is a way of doing business.
— Michael Quinn Patton Preface to 2014 InterAction Report

What is Evaluative thinking?

Evaluative thinking is a “habit of mind,” motivated by a never-satiated desire for evidence, that involves 4 key skills. These 4 skills are: 

  1. Identifying assumptions
  2. Posing thoughtful questions
  3. Pursuing deeper understanding through reflection and perspective taking
  4. Making informed decisions in preparation for action

Like critical thinking, evaluative thinking is a skill that has to be practiced intentionally and continuously in order to overcome the human tendencies to preserve our own beliefs, make assumptions and accept our immediate, “gut” explanations for what we see and hear.

In the context of program or project work, evaluative thinking leads to thoughtful planning, high quality evaluation, good decision making, adaptive practice and program evolution.

In an organization that has adopted evaluative thinking practices you would hear staff and leadership ask questions like:

  • How do we know?
  • What evidence do we have?
  • How credible is that evidence?
  • What are some alternative explanations?
  • What do you think our stakeholders would say?
  • What assumptions are we operating under?
  • What evidence do we need in order to make the most informed decision?

You would see effort to address the above questions, including things like:

  • Intrinsically motivated evidence gathering 
  • Informal as well as formal evidence gathering
  • Reflective discussion
  • Critical review
  • Evaluation use
  • Development and use of logic models, pathway models and/or theories of change
  • Regular revisions to model(s) and program plan(s)