Developing a Principles Focused Evaluation approach – CoLab Dudley

We wanted to get a handle on using evaluation in CoLab Dudley’s work so that we would be able to tell an honest and complete story of change in relation to our work which is now being invested in by the National Lottery Community Fund – We were seeking an approach to evaluation which would talk to both our hearts and our minds, given our work is led by passion and purpose. As a lab which experiments with lots of small scale interventions, we needed ways of evaluating which would guide us, actively inform our experimentation, and respond to changing contexts, timescales and uncertainty. We needed a useful everyday practical evaluation tool which would be versatile and have meaning to people involved in our work.


Two of our CoLab team members took a deep dive into Michael Quinn Patton’s book on Principles Focused Evaluation, having identified this approach as a likely good fit for our work. We felt it met the needs described above. The whole of our team worked together to identify shared lab team principles, built up from our own personal values and sense checked these against core values expressed by local people involved in our research in 2017-18. We tested our principles against the G.U.I.D.E criteria outlined by Michael Quinn Patton. This means the principles should help with Guidance (priority setting), they have Utility (are actionable), that they are Inspiring and grounded in our ethics, that they are Developmental (i.e. they are applicable to a range of contexts) and Evaluable (you can document and judge the results). We created a visual prototype in the form of a set of cards for everyday use, and developed a set of questions to help us understand if we were sticking to our principles, then if and how that contributes to social change.


In the first six months of using it, we have found that a Principles Focused Evaluation approach has helped with:

  • Guiding the fostering of new types of relationships and connections, and the decisions we make on a day to day basis.
  • Intentional design and holding spaces for cultural emergence -we have been struck by how principles focused evaluation helps to underpin our efforts to scale deep.
  • pay attention to the presence of counter-principles within our system (counter-principles are the opposites of our principles, they express what we work to avoid).
  • Making evaluation part of our day to day interactions and conversations in easy and fluid ways.

In testing, if we are following the principles in practice we are able to focus on the way things are done not just what is done, which has implications on the cultures we are nurturing to cultivate a more creative, kinder and connected town centre.


Listen to audio clips of lab team members talking about the principles and the approach:

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