Rainbow Framework to Choose Program Evaluation Approaches

The BetterEvaluation.org website offers free information and downloads about the Rainbow Framework to help your nonprofit select the correct methods and processes for designing evaluations. It seeks to provide a means to clarify the purpose of conducting an evaluation (e.g. the most critical questions the evaluation would answer), help you select methods and processes to answer those questions, and generally aid in developing an evaluation design.

The site has summaries for the following evaluation approaches and methodologies:

  1. Appreciative Inquiry (available in Español): A strengths-based approach designed to support ongoing learning and adaptation by identifying and investigating outlier examples of good practice and ways of increasing their frequency.
  2. Beneficiary Assessment: An approach that focuses on assessing the value of an intervention as perceived by the (intended) beneficiaries, thereby aiming to give voice to their priorities and concerns.
  3. Case study (available in Español): A research design that focuses on understanding a unit (person, site or project) in its context, which can use a combination of qualitative and quantitative data.
  4. Causal Link Monitoring: An approach designed to support ongoing learning and adaptation, which identifies the processes required to achieve desired results, and then observes whether those processes take place, and how.
  5. Collaborative Outcomes Reporting (available in Español): An impact evaluation approach based on contribution analysis, with the addition of processes for expert review and community review of evidence and conclusions.
  6. Contribution Analysis (available in PortuguêsEspañol): An impact evaluation approach that iteratively maps available evidence against a theory of change, then identifies and addresses challenges to causal inference.
  7. Critical System Heuristics (available in Español): An approach used to surface, elaborate, and critically consider the options and implications of boundary judgments, that is, the ways in which people/groups decide what is relevant to what is being evaluated. 
  8. Democratic Evaluation: Various ways of doing evaluation in ways that support democratic decision making, accountability and/or capacity.
  9. Developmental Evaluation: An approach designed to support ongoing learning and adaptation, through iterative, embedded evaluation.
  10. Empowerment Evaluation (available in Español): A participatory approach designed to provide groups with the tools and knowledge so they can monitor and evaluate their own performance.
  11. Horizontal Evaluation (available in Español): An approach to learning and improvement that combines self-assessment by local participants and external review by peers​.
  12. Innovation History (available in Español): A particular type of case study used to jointly develop an agreed narrative of how an innovation was developed, including key contributors and processes, to inform future innovation efforts​.
  13. Institutional Histories: A particular type of case study used  to create a narrative of how institutional arrangements have evolved over time and have created and contributed to more effective ways to achieve project or program goals​.
  14. Most Significant Change (available in Español): Approach primarily intended to clarify differences in values among stakeholders by collecting and collectively analysing personal accounts of change.
  15. Outcome Harvesting (available in PortuguêsEspañol): An impact evaluation approach suitable for retrospectively identifying emergent impacts by collecting evidence of what has changed  and, then, working backwards, determining whether and how an intervention has contributed to these changes.
  16. Outcome Mapping (available in Español): An impact evaluation approach which unpacks  an initiative’s theory of change, provides a framework to collect data on immediate, basic changes that lead to longer, more transformative change, and allows for the plausible assessment of the initiative’s contribution to results via ‘boundary partners’.
  17. Participatory Evaluation (available in Español): A range of approaches that engage stakeholders (especially intended beneficiaries) in conducting the evaluation and/or making decisions about the evaluation.
  18. Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) / Participatory Learning for Action (PLA): A participatory approach which enables  farmers to analyse their own situation and develop a common perspective on natural resource management and agriculture at village level. 
  19. Positive Deviance (available in Español): A strengths-based approach to learning and improvement that involves intended evaluation users in identifying ‘outliers’ – those with exceptionally good outcomes - and understanding how they have achieved these.
  20. Qualitative Impact Assessment Protocol (QUIP) (available in Español): An impact evaluation approach without a control group that uses narrative causal statements elicited directly from intended project beneficiaries. 
  21. Randomised Controlled Trials (RCT) (available in Español): An impact evaluation approach that compares results between a randomly assigned control group and experimental group or groups to produce an estimate of the mean net impact of an intervention. 
  22. Realist Evaluation (available in Español): An approach especially to impact evaluation which examines what works for whom in what circumstances through what causal mechanisms, including changes in the reasoning and resources of participants. 
  23. Social Return on Investment (SROI) (available in Español): An participatory approach to value-for-money evaluation that identifies a broad range of social outcomes, not only the direct outcomes for the intended beneficiaries of an intervention. 
  24. Success Case Method (available in Español): An impact evaluation approach based on identifying and investigating the most successful cases and seeing if their results can justify the cost of the intervention (such as a training course).
  25. Utilisation-Focused Evaluation (available in Español): Uses the intended uses of the evaluation by its primary intended users to  guide decisions about how an evaluation should be conducted.