Towards Systemic Evaluation

Reynolds, Martin; Gates, Emily; Hummelbrunner, Richard; Marra, Mita and Williams, Bob (2016). Towards Systemic Evaluation. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 33(5) pp. 662–673.



Problems of conventional evaluation models can be understood as an impoverished ‘conversation’ between realities (of non-linearity, indeterminate attributes, and ever-changing context), and models of evaluating such realities. Meanwhile, ideas of systems thinking and complexity science—grouped here under the acronym STCS—struggle to gain currency in the big ‘E’ world of institutionalized evaluation. Four evaluation practitioners familiar with evaluation tools associated with STCS offer perspectives on issues regarding mainstream uptake of STCS in the big ‘E’ world. The perspectives collectively suggest three features of practicing systemic evaluation: (i) developing value in conversing between bounded values (evaluations) and unbounded reality (evaluand), with humility; (ii) developing response-ability with evaluand stakeholders based on reflexivity, with empathy; and (iii) developing adaptive rather than mere contingent use(fulness) of STCS ‘tools’ as part of evaluation praxis, with inevitable fallibility and an orientation towards bricolage (adaptive use). The features hint towards systemic evaluation as core to a reconfigured notion of developmental evaluation.

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