Evaluation for Models and Adaptive Initiatives

Published: November 2012

Type: Publication

This Foundation Review article outlines the difference between evaluation for two main types of grantmaking programs: models, which provide replicable or semi-standardized solutions, and adaptive initiatives, which are flexible programming strategies used to address problems that require unique, context-based solutions. 

Julia Coffman

Within philanthropy, there has been some debate about evaluation design and which approaches return the most rigorous, credible, and useful evidence about impact.

Agreement is growing around the idea that the strongest evaluation designs are situation specific and attuned to the questions that are most appropriate at the time. In addition to the purpose of the evaluation and the stage of the program, the nature of the program itself is key for determining the right evaluation approach.

This article concentrates on how the nature of the intervention affects evaluation design. It outlines a framework for selecting evaluation approaches for two types of grantmaking programs used to achieve far-reaching impact: models and adaptive initiatives.

Evaluation of models requires understanding the stage of development of the model program, with summative or impact evaluation done only when the model is fully developed.

Adaptive initiatives require consideration of both the timing and scale of the initiative in determining the appropriate evaluation design.

The article helps highlight how evaluation that works today may not work tomorrow. Evolution is inevitable and flexibility is essential. Like change leaders who shepherd models through phases of development and scale-up, evaluators must remain attentive to the emergent nature of adaptive initiatives and adjust their approaches accordingly.