Evaluation in complex times: demonstrating the impact of OD

Demonstrating impact and the difference OD makes.

17 January 2021

Evaluation can help us to demonstrate our impact and value more effectively. It can also contribute to a growth in our capability and confidence; it might even shape how we do organisation development (OD). The ability to measure and describe how we add value to our organisations enhances the credibility of our work.

All OD activity needs to have an evaluation plan from the start, whilst building a continuous cycle of reflection, and action. It is also essential to have an evaluation methodology that takes into account the complexity of our work, and the systems we work in.

When the context is stable, causal links and pathways are straightforward, then simple outcomes and experimental methods will work. But when the context is dynamic, changeable, and causal links are complex we need a different evaluation methodology.

Developmental and adaptive action evaluation methods and practice will help demonstrate the difference OD is making. Like most successful OD work it starts with asking some questions:

  • What’s the purpose of our OD activity/intervention?
  • What are the questions we want to know the answers to? 
  • Who will be using the results and what is it that they will want to know?
  • What kind of data is most useful? 
  • And how do we tell the story most effectively?

An good example of this is the work we did in partnership with the human systems dynamic team, evaluating the Leadership Academy OD capability building programmes using adaptive action. We presented this work at one of our Do OD conferences, find our case study in the resource list below. 

We have been actively using developmental evaluation for our Do OD programmes and aiming to tell our story better. One good example is our three videos from three different OD leads and organisations who tell their story of the difference OD has made: 

We want to continue to raise our ambition and deepen our practice on evaluation and are keen to hear your stories and case studies of evaluation. If you would like to share your evaluation stories or case studies, get in touch with us at

  • Articles by leading thinkers on OD evaluation

    • Finley, L & Hennessy, J. (2013) ’Measuring and Evaluating OD: Return on Investment?' in “A field guide for Organisation Development”, Griffin, E., Alsop, M., Saville, M. & Smith, G. (Eds), Gower.
    • Finley, L. & Jefkins, C. 2003. Best Practice in OD Evaluation. Roffey Park
    • Porras, J. I., & Berg, P. 0. 1978. The impact of organization development. Academy of Management Review, 3: 249-266.
    • Terpstra, D. E. (1981), “Relationship between methodological rigor and reported outcomes in organization development evaluation research,” Journal of Applied Research, 66, 541-543
    • Strauss, G. (1973) Organisational development: credit and debits. Organisational Dynamics, Winter, p2-19
    • Wagner, S., Martin, N. & Hammond, C. (2002) “A brief primer on quantitative measurement for the OD professional”, OD Practitioner, vol 34, no 3, p53-57.