What we’re reading in July – Complexity, Ageing and Urban Sprawl

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Understanding real-world complexities for greater uptake of evaluation findings



In a two-part blog series, Michael Bamberger, Senior Research Fellow at 3ie, explores the need for ‘complexity-responsive’ evaluations.  These pieces cut through the often impenetrable jargon surrounding ‘complexity’ as an issue in evaluation. They provide a vitally needed tonic to impractical and abstract notions of complexity that seldom deal with real world project circumstances. In the first of the two blogs, Bamberger explains the reason why project design routinely employs simplified models unfit for purpose.  The second blog offers solutions that can replace cursory acknowledgement of complexity with a workable framework.  The obstacles to implementing such an approach are formidable, as Bamberger notes: institutional risk-aversion, rigid procurement and inaccessibility of data all bedevil attempts to move beyond existing simple models. However, expectations are shifting and as demand rises for more complexity-conscious approaches, the evaluation community will need to progressively overcome these constraints.


World Bank Support to Aging Countries: An Independent Evaluation


Although not tagged as part of its celebration of World Population Day (11 July), the IEG’s independence evaluation of “World Bank Support to Aging Countries” is one of 2021’s most important reports on demography in the context of international development.  It tackles a problem that is frequently ignored by the binary view of a wealthy, ageing global north and a youthful, developing global south.  It looks closely at the countries that are experiencing hardship linked to population ageing without the resources that many OECD countries possess to counteract it.   The report is to be commended for its frankness: the World Bank lacks a concrete approach to population ageing, and analytical work, at the Bank and across the sector, is lacking. The World Bank does not have an explicit ageing strategy, despite the subject’s ever-increasing heft in fiscal decisions to economies worldwide, and its position can only be supposed by collecting the disparate documents and references embedded in better-supported topics.  The analytical work that exists is poorly accessible and significant gaps persist. The report makes for sobering reading in light of the pandemic’s differential effect on older populations and, as more of the world ages, the gulf between challenges and evidence-based approaches will only become more stark.


A Twitter map of the Evaluation Community


This is an interesting piece of visual storytelling, looking at the network of evaluators on Twitter and how they divide into distinct communities.  If you can wade through some of the more technical jargon, the visualisation provided by NodeXL would seem to suggest that such approaches could be a useful accompaniment to the evaluator’s regular toolkit of meta-analyses, literature reviews and topic modelling.


What do cities need to grow equitably, sustainably and build resilience?


Analysis of urban matters has become an indispensable part of international development study.  This piece, in support of IEG’s first systematic assessment of the World Bank’s support to urban management, provides a raft of useful frameworks and ideas for evaluators to reflect on.  It is an overwhelmingly practical document, with no time wasted on denying the forces driving urban sprawl, despite its often destructive consequences.  Rather, it offers actionable advice on monitoring fast-moving phenomena, linking new circumstances to existing goals and keeping indicators relevant when the pace of events could easily render them redundant. Seen through the lens of land development, land-use planning and land administration, the blog provides a good precis on these difficult issues and an interesting call to “get out in front” of the problems by anticipating urban pressures, securing infrastructure and rights and, in general, looking out for preventative solutions instead of only adopting reactive curative ones.


Thinking outside the box: Why young and emerging evaluators need opportunities to grow


From May 31st to June 4th 2021,In the week to June 4 this year, a significant number of events were held under the umbrella of The gLOCAL Evaluation week, a platform for evaluation knowledge-sharing and networking events. This blog from Itad collects some useful testimonials from several of the young and emerging evaluators that participated in its gLocal workshops. As an insight into the evaluation community during a time of online-only events, the piece is a good indication of how group work can be done and events made more meaningful, especially to early career evaluators for whom such opportunities are more important. These testimonials are worth reading for anyone interested in organising an online evaluation-based event in the near future.