In this working paper, Earl and Timperley argue that evaluative thinking is a necessary component of successful innovation and involves more than measurement and quantification. Combining evaluation with innovation requires discipline in the innovation and flexibility in the evaluation. The knowledge bases for both innovation and evaluation have advanced dramatically in recent years in ways that have allowed synergies to develop between them; the different stakeholders can bring
evaluative thinking into innovation in ways that capitalise on these synergies. Evaluative thinking contributes to new learning by providing evidence to chronicle, map and monitor the progress, successes, failures and roadblocks in the innovation as it unfolds. It involves thinking about what evidence will be useful during the course of the innovation activities, establishing the range of objectives and targets that make sense to determine their progress, and building knowledge and developing practical uses for the new information, throughout the trajectory of the innovation. Having a continuous cycle of generating hypotheses, collecting evidence, and reflecting on progress, allows the stakeholders (e.g., innovation leaders, policymakers, funders, participants in innovation) an opportunity to try things, experiment, make mistakes and consider where they are, what went right and what went wrong, through a fresh and independent review of the course and the effects of the innovation. This paper describes issues and approaches to each phase of the cycle. It concludes by outlining the synergies to be made, building capacity for evaluative thinking, as well as possible tensions to be addressed.