In the latest edition of ‘Evaluation’ – the UK Evaluation Society’s journal – I read an article about how evaluation practitioners need to challenge the standard way of doing things. In particular the author was advocating using systems thinking and complexity more in evaluation design and implementation. This surprised me. Especially as systems thinking and complexity have been part of evaluation design and practice for at least the last five to seven years and key practitioners have been advocating the use of systems thinking for much longer than that.
Using key systems principles such as inter-relationships, boundaries and perspectives to inform both design and implementation of evaluations is crucial to understanding the different views of stakeholders that are involved with or benefitting from an intervention. Just as important is understanding barriers, contribution (versus attribution) and both direct and indirect causality. It still surprises me how often clients will query whether it really is necessary to speak to beneficiaries as part of the evaluation process, let alone allow all stakeholders greater participation in the evaluation process in general.
The field of evaluation is diverse and the range of approaches that can be used are appropriately varied. It is important too, to constantly challenge accepted and dominant approaches in any field. While I welcome the article’s attempts to push the debate around the evaluation mainstream forward, I do wonder whether the article itself is playing catch up with approaches that excellent practitioners are already using?