Evidence-based Principles

by Michael Quinn Patton / Mar 28, 2014

In this post, Michael Quinn Patton, an independent organizational development and program evaluation consultant, shares his extensive experience in evaluation. This guest blog post is based on his remarks from February 2014 at the Transformative Change Initiative's Learning Lab.

Utilization-Focused Evaluation
Transformative change in complex dynamic systems must be principles-driven. Principles provide guidance and direction but must be adapted to context. Transformative Change Initiative (TCI) principles were derived from review of themes in effective Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant strategies. That makes the principles evidence-based.

Effective, Evidence–Based Principles
They are useful to distinguish two types of evidence-based conclusions:

  1. Best practice model. Systematic meta-analysis of randomized controlled trial evaluations of several programs all implementing the same model in a high-fidelity, standardized, and replicable manner.

  2. Evidence-based principles. Synthesis of mixed methods evaluations of diverse programs all adhering to the same principles but each adapting those principles to its own particular target population within its own context.

“Best” or “proven” practices are like recipes in that they provide standardized directions that must be followed precisely to achieve the desired outcome: Add one-quarter teaspoon of salt. In contrast, guiding principles provide direction, but must be adapted to context and situation: Season to taste.

Two Approaches to Diffusing and Scaling Interventions
Distinguishing “best” practices from effective principles leads to fundamentally different ways of achieving impact at scale. “Best” practices scaling requires high fidelity, controlled replication of a successful intervention. In contrast, diffusing effective principles involves adaptation to different situations as the innovation expands. The evidence-based principles approach is especially appropriate for innovative and adaptive programs in complex dynamic environments. Innovative programs are often changed and contextualized as practitioners learn what works and what doesn’t and as they experiment, learn, and adapt.

The Next Step for TCI Principles
The next step is further evaluation and refinement of the TCI principles. Being principles-driven is the cutting edge approach to scaling innovations. That puts TCI on the cutting edge. The world will be watching to see what difference it makes to be rigorously and systematically principles-driven. View video of Dr. Patton discussing the Transformative Change Initiative.

Michael Quinn Patton is the former president of the American Evaluation Association and author of Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use (Guilford Press).