Why Embeddedness Is Crucial For Use-Focused Developmental Evaluation Support

By Esrael Woldeeyesus


“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” – Albert Einstein

In other words, solutions are only as good as the understanding of the problem. The level of detail we know about the problem, such as why it has happened, when, and how, informs what kind of solution could best solve it.

The occurrence of multiple and, in most cases, concurrent shocks in Ethiopia, such as conflict, COVID-19, desert locusts, flooding, and drought, makes the operating environment for humanitarian and development partners very complex. In this context, Headlight is implementing a Developmental Evaluation (DE) to support the USAID/Ethiopia Strengthening Disaster Risk Management Systems and Institutions (SDRM-SI) Project (2020-2025) and its partners. The DE approach generates evidence and learning on an ongoing basis, provides real-time feedback, and informs adaptive actions to ensure interventions are implemented effectively and are responsive to the changing and increasingly complex operating context. However, the DE’s ability to achieve these objectives is influenced by the level of Developmental Evaluators’ embeddedness in the Activity. Embeddedness in this context refers to the Developmental Evaluator being integrated into a stakeholder team that gives enough access to have a closer observation of an organization’s decisions and processes, communications, and key evidence and data.  

Why is embeddedness crucial?  

Embeddedness opens plenty of avenues for communication and transparent discussions between the stakeholders’ teams and Developmental Evaluators. Open communication includes inviting Developmental Evaluators to attend meetings, adding them to email communication loops, and sharing documents such as evaluations and After Action Review (AAR) reports. As the level of embeddedness improves and trust is built, the stakeholders’ team becomes increasingly open to sharing their challenges/bottlenecks, changing contexts, and technical/financial gaps that prevent stakeholders from achieving the desired goals. This level of embeddedness creates opportunities for the Developmental Evaluators to collect and analyze data, and provide real-time feedback to inform adaptation areas.

For example, at Headlight, the embeddedness of Developmental Evaluators has led to the development of several informative deliverables (e.g., evidence-based synopses and briefers), used focused tools (e.g., trackers or checklists), actionable recommendations, and facilitating learning sessions to support continuous learning and improvements. In addition, Headlight supported several adaptation workshops and, based on that, compiled a facilitators’ guide, which is available online for stakeholders to use while they facilitate Adaptive Action Planning Workshops.

Obstacles for embeddedness 

Given the fact that Developmental Evaluation is a recent phenomenon and is new to many humanitarian and development actors, DE embeddedness takes time to create a shared understanding and build trust. Usually, trust comes as Developmental Evaluators practically demonstrate their support with a focus on learning and adaptation. As the work of Developmental Evaluators is recognized and valued, the team may request more support, which requires careful assessment by the Evaluator to avoid taking on tasks or roles meant to be implemented by the stakeholder team, as the DE approach intends to equip, not replace. For example, rather than facilitating AARs for stakeholders, the Developmental Evaluator co-facilitated some sessions, providing backup support and ensuring the quality of facilitation and note-taking. In that case, the Headlight Developmental Evaluators shifted from facilitation to co-facilitation, and they were able to not only work with the stakeholder team to implement the AAR but also to build the stakeholder team’s capacity to implement future AARs and similar sessions, which contributed to ensuring sustainability is incorporated throughout DE implementation.

Stakeholders, despite their receptivity, are usually swamped with the implementation of activities and troubleshooting, which makes time very tight for them to engage with the DE to generate evidence and do learning and adaptation exercises. The limited bandwidth of stakeholders requires the DE’s continuous follow-up and persistence to bring key issues back and back again to make the necessary progress. Organization of learning-focused activities such as AAR and Pause and Reflect sessions is very important to discuss and agree with the stakeholders’ team on what worked, what could be improved, and identify adaptation areas for better DE support.   


Overall, Developmental Evaluator support is as useful and as effective as the level of embeddedness the stakeholders’ allow. The more open and engaged stakeholders are, the more opportunities the evaluator gets to provide real-time feedback and support adaptations. It is very critical for the Developmental Evaluators to continuously engage with stakeholders using different modes of communication, including in-person meetings and check-ins, to improve the outcomes of the Developmental Evaluation. In general, receptivity toward DE is increasing across Headlight clients and partners, but a continued focus on identifying and tackling issues with embeddedness is critical for DE success. If progress continues with the current trend, it will not take long for many to understand how powerful Developmental Evaluation is.


  1. Debevoise, Nell Derick. (26 Jan 2021). The Third Critical Step In Problem Solving That Einstein Missed. Forbes.com.

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  • Anonymous

    Excellent! I have found it interesting! Keep up the good work!!