I have been working up proposals for some workshops on the value of nudging Evaluation in a direction that makes Complexity Science one of Evaluation’s “adjacent disciplines”. I have no idea if the proposals will be accepted, but I think their justification is worth sharing.
What gets evaluated? The answer is an activity linked to a delivery process, and cast within an organizational setting, all for the purpose of effecting change in the recipients of that activity. Whatever else “evaluation” means, it includes research on relationships among process, organization, and outcome, all set within a surrounding environment. Despite the particulars of methodology or evaluation theory, the evaluation will be based on an intellectual edifice comprised of model, methodology, and data interpretation; all of which are shaped by beliefs about prediction, explanation, causality, and pattern.
This intellectual edifice has proved highly successful in generating persuasive knowledge about how programs operate and what they accomplish. Still, evaluation could be more persuasive if it drew deeply from Complexity Science because if we evaluate complex systems, our work should be informed by a deep understanding of the behavior of those systems.
Over and above specific complex behaviors that evaluators need to know about (troll this blog for specifics), evaluators need to convince themselves of three facts. 1) Evaluation of complex behavior can be dealt with using common familiar methodologies. For the most part nothing exotic or unfamiliar is needed. 2) Both “predictability” and “unpredictability” characterize complex behavior. What’s needed is to know enough about complexity to understand which of these conditions are likely to manifest. 3) It is not always necessary or desirable to invoke complexity.