The Art of the Nudge: Five Practices for Developmental Evaluators

Published: March 2013

Type: Publication

This article offers five practices to help developmental evaluators detect and support opportunities for learning and adaptation leading to right-timed feedback.

Tanya Beer

Conventional program evaluation is a poor fit for the uncertain and emergent nature of innovative and complex initiatives. It can fail to return timely data about how an unpredictable system is responding to new inputs, leaving innovators in the dark about how to adjust. Increased attention is being paid to developmental evaluation to provide right-timed feedback and data that are necessary for supporting adaptation and reorganization in highly dynamic, multidimensional, and interdependent interventions.

If evaluation is to play an integral learning role in complex social innovation, the field needs more grounded research drawn from the experience of developmental evaluators themselves about the roles and skills required for closing feedback loops and facilitating evaluative thinking in complex social change initiatives.

This article focuses on these developmental evaluation challenges, based on an action research study involving a group of developmental evaluators in a three-year comprehensive community initiative on youth and community change.

The study presents five practices that are central to the “art of the nudge,” or how developmental evaluators can provide real-time feedback that subtly supports shifts in policies, practices, resource flow, and programming in a way that is sensitive to context and to the energy of the people involved:

  1. Practicing servant leadership
  2. Sensing program energy
  3. Supporting common spaces
  4. Untying knots iteratively
  5. Paying attention to structure.