I fell in love with principles as a way to guide my life when I first encountered them in 2012.
In “Principles-Focused Evaluation: The Guide”, I share what it was like to make sense of life after my four-year-old son died. Reflecting on my parenting, it was clear that rules didn’t matter—not the number of vegetables he ate, screen minutes he viewed, or vocabulary words he heard. So what did matter? I loved him fiercely. I have no doubt he knew that. I valued his imagination, his laugh, his questions, the spark in his eye. I valued him and what he brought to our family and the world. When I could, I kept him safe. But I couldn’t keep him and when I couldn’t, I walked with him when he was scared. My son knew he was loved, he was valued, and that I would walk with him when he was scared. That’s what truly mattered. These have become my personal guiding principles.
As I made my way from grieving back to life, I wondered: What is my purpose? Is it possible to find and fulfill my purpose through evaluation? If so, how? Can I reimagine myself as an evaluator that works in alignment with who I am becoming, not who I was? Waking Lumina, my guiding principles for professional engagement emerged.
Engage heart, mind, and spirit in all aspects of living my life: my relationship with myself, my relationship with others, my work, and the decisions I make.
Make choices that let my light shine more brightly, and engage with others in a way that supports their ability to shine more brightly.
Build and deepen connections between and amongst people, spirit, nature, passion and purpose.
Increase social justice and equity, recognizing my privilege and the opportunities it affords me to create change.
Inspire and be inspired.
Since 2012, I have conducted numerous principles-focused developmental evaluations for social-justice oriented systems change. I engage my principles to guide how I approach the work, and I help people in complex systems discover and define their own guiding principles. People I’m working are ecstatic, relieved, curious, or all of the above when I describe a principles-focused approach. They find that principles allow us to work together while seeing the world as it actually is, see people as they are, bring people together around hard issues without asking for complete agreement of uniformity, and provide a framework for coherent systems change with room for adaptation. It’s the most human way of practicing evaluation I’ve ever experienced.
Read more about the first principles-focused developmental evaluation from the 2014 AEA365 DE Week post, Homeless Youth Collaborative on Developmental Evaluation
Read the full chapter in Principles-focused evaluation: The GUIDE by Michael Quinn Patton.