Confucius said: Learning without thought is labor lost. Thought without learning is perilous. I have been thinking about evaluative thinking. And exploring. And reading. And of course, learning. And I’m finding the same old story: as with most other evaluation-related terminology, there’s no one accepted definition of evaluative thinking. But, I did find two amazing resources: 

1. Thomas Archibald and Jane Buckley from the Cornell Office of Research and Evaluation held a Coffee Break Webinar for the American Evaluation Association last year entitled Evaluative Thinking: The ‘Je Ne Sais Quoi’ of Eval Capacity Building and Practice. While the recording of this insightful webinar is free to AEA members, their slides are free for anyone and can be found here in the AEA Public eLibrary. Archibald and Buckley pieced together quotes from well-known evaluators, and looked to the literature not only in evaluation research, but also in cognitive science and education to compile a list of thinking skills and evaluative attitudes that comprise evaluative thinking. Two of my favorite questions they cite include: How do we build the capacity of individuals, teams, and organizations to think evaluatively, and engage in evaluation practice? (Hallie Preskill, 2008), and Willingness to ask, ‘How do we know what we think we know’? (Michael Quinn Patton, 2005).

Thinking skills they identify include: questioning, reflection, decision making, strategizing, identifying assumptions; evaluative attitudes include: desire for the truth, belief in the value of evaluation, belief in the value of evidence, inquisitiveness, and skepticism. Their materials also include a checklist  to capture indicators of evaluative thinking.

2. The Bruner Foundation has a website area devoted to Effectiveness Initiatives – aptly titled – that offers a wealth of free resources, including Integrating Evaluative Capacity into Organizational Practice, a manual on ways to integrate evaluation skills and thinking into everyday practice. Their definition of evaluative thinking is that it brings the specific skills of identifying key questions of substance, determining what data are needed to answer the questions, gathering appropriate data in a systematic way, analyzing the data and sharing results; and developing strategies to act on the findings; intergrating findings into the every day work of an organization. They also offer tools on indicators of evaluative thinking and assessing evaluative thinking.

The funny thing is, the Bruner Foundation, as I’ve recently discovered, is located in my own city, Rochester, NY, and Cornell is only about 90 miles away. Evaluative thinking…in my own backyard!

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Do you know of other resources on evaluative thinking? I’d love to add to the collection!