Towards Systemic Evaluation in Turbulent Times – Second-order practice shift

Schmidt-Abbey, Barbara; Reynolds, Martin and Ison, Ray (2020). Towards Systemic Evaluation in Turbulent Times – Second-order practice shift. Evaluation, 26(2) pp. 205–226.



The need for, and possibilities of, a second-order shift in evaluation practice are explored. Second-order evaluation practice enables an evaluator to improve practice as a skilled practitioner, acknowledging her embeddedness within an evaluand. The paper explores evaluation practice as experienced by professional evaluators, using ideas from developmental evaluation coupled with systemic evaluation in the tradition of systems thinking in practice (STiP). Systemic evaluation aims to capture systemic sensibilities – the bigger picture – of complex turbulent situations of change underpinning evaluands. Attributes of second-order practice with systemic evaluation are understood as being aligned with both systemic and systematic modes of evaluation praxis. Personal experiences are provided where this juxtaposing praxis has been found wanting. By example, a STiP framework is explored as heuristic support for making a second-order practice shift. The paper concludes with a discussion of some implications for developments in professionalising evaluation practice and research.

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