Evaluate Your Thinking

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Do you find yourself making decisions based on your gut instincts again and again? Do your initiatives seem to falter rather than gain traction? If so, then it may be time for a tune up of your evaluative thinking.

Evaluative thinking is critical thinking applied to the context of evaluation. It is the heart of evaluation work. It is not a report or a tracker or a chart. Instead, it is a frame of mind. It’s also a skill that requires learning, practice, and revision.

A brain with a stethoscope attached.

How do you exercise your evaluative thinking muscle? Try this:

  • Think of something in your program that is not working and write down your explanation for why it is going amiss. Then ask yourself, what assumptions am I making in this explanation?
  • Think of a change you want to make in your work. Take a moment to reflect on what success will look like after implementing this change. How will you know that you’ve achieved that success?
  • Think of a significant decision you need to make about your work. Have you spent time self-reflecting on this decision? Have you talked about the decision with others – especially those who will be most impacted by the decision?
  • Let’s stay with that significant decision you are going to make. What data do you have on hand to help you make that decision? If none, how can you collect some?

Using evaluative thinking is critical to making the most of your program’s evaluation, which is why Xcalibur weaves it throughout our evaluation process. We explicitly teach evaluative thinking and guide partner staff through exercises. As a result, staff build their own evaluative thinking muscle, gain more meaning from data, and strategize more thoughtfully.

John Dewey summed it up well when he described critical thinking in his book How We Think (1910). “The essence of critical thinking is suspended judgment; and the essence of this suspense is inquiry to determine the nature of the problem before proceeding to attempts at its solution.”

Want to know more? Check out pg. 37-42 of W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Step-by-Step Guide to Evaluation.