Learning How to Learn in Sustainability Transitions Projects: The Potential Contribution of Developmental Evaluation




Journal Title

Journal ISSN




Volume Title


Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation



Peer reviewed



Background: Community-based sustainability transitions projects are increasingly being considered for their potential as policy delivery vehicles for the UK government Climate Change Act commitments. At the same time, project funders seek reassurances that their investments are relevant in helping communities mitigate, and adapt to, the effects of climate change. Despite this increased pressure, recent research suggests that evaluations of such sustainability transitions projects have, on the one hand variable impacts, or impacts that are of an inadequate scale, duration, or type, or on the other, that project staff lack the capacity or resources to undertake monitoring and evaluation to the degree of rigour expected by policy makers and funders.

Purpose: This article reports on an extended case study of a fully-funded five year community-based sustainability transitions project in Leicestershire, England. In particular, it reviews the deployment of developmental evaluation (DE) methods in an attempt to capture the project team’s learning about doing community-based sustainability work.

Setting: A funded community-based sustainability transitions project in a south Leicestershire market town.

Intervention: Developmental evaluation methods were used to capture project-based learning as a resource for project innovation and adaptation.

Research Design: Phronetic case study.

Data Collection and Analysis: Participant-observation, action research, focus and special issue group facilitation.

Findings: Use of a developmental evaluation method identified key learning points for the project actors; these focused on how the project had adapted to the complexities of the operating environment through innovations in second-order learning or learning how to learn. The paper makes recommendations for the design and funding arrangements of community-based sustainability transitions initiatives and developmental evaluation is endorsed as a viable and promising adjunct to more traditional impact, economic, and process evaluation methodologies.


open access journal


Developmental Evaluation, second-order learning, community-based sustainability, phronesis, action research, project design


Mitchell, A. S. and Lemon, M. (2020) Learning How to Learn in Sustainability Transitions Projects: The Potential Contribution of Developmental Evaluation. Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation, 16 (34), pp. 91-103.


Research Institute

Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (IESD)