TWG 8 – Systems Approaches in Evaluation

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TWG Leader

TWG Leader

Barbara Schmidt-Abbey

TWG Co-Leader

TWG Co-Leader

Kirsten Bording Collins

Presentation of TWG

There is growing recognition that we are living in a much cited ‘VUCA’ world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous), which has also been consistently present in the framings of evaluation conferences, discussions, literature, and broader discourse, including in EES over the last 10 years or so.

Urgent calls for action to transform evaluative practices have been fuelled by a growing recognition that traditional evaluation methods, approaches, institutional arrangements and mindsets are no longer sufficient to meet the nature, urgency and scale of the challenges. It has been argued in many recent contributions that the traditional methods and tools that worked well in ‘normal times’ are being exposed as woefully inadequate in the face of VUCA world challenges, and ‘wicked’ problems, when it comes to evaluation.

Contributions at the most recent EES conferences as well as in the current evaluation practitioner and academic discourse and literature have increasingly called for evaluation at ‘systems level’, more ‘systemic evaluation’, or ‘post-normal evaluation’, using systems and complexity sensitive approaches. There are many and varied contributions, from many different traditions of understandings about systems and applying them in evaluation.

Whilst there is some level of agreement for the need for action, the capacity of the community of evaluation practitioners and the institutional arrangements under which evaluations are framed, commissioned, designed and conducted, are not yet at the required level to support the needed transformation of evaluation practice.

Vision

With this Thematic Working Group we strive to be a forum for discussion, exchange, co-development and exploration of systems approaches in evaluation within and for the community of evaluation practitioners in Europe.

The vision for the TWG is to be a common ‘home’ and shared platform reflective of the full range of diverse systems approaches from all traditions of understanding of systems, to promote their development, use and further adoption in evaluation, and increase awareness amongst evaluation practitioners, commissioners, evaluators, users and researchers.

It aims to be a ‘safe space’ for experimenting on innovative ways of adapting existing evaluation approaches with systems approaches, amongst peers. It aims to be inclusive of all traditions of systems thinking (rather than an exclusive community based on specific understandings).  

The TWG strives to build on ongoing debates in evaluation practice and research within the evaluation discipline and in the broader social sciences, relating to evaluating systems and systems change, systemic evaluation and policy analysis and complexity-aware evaluation and related concepts.

Aims

The relevance of setting up this working group builds upon the following observations:

  •  Acknowledging and including the full ‘broad church’ of systems approaches: taking an inclusive, pluralistic approach. 
  • Promoting broader awareness of systems approaches, methods and tools, to make their use more ‘mainstreamed’ in evaluation practice. 
  • Developing broader capacity to embrace systems approaches in evaluation amongst practitioners, both individually, and collectively.
  • Developing institutional capacity on the part of evaluation commissioners to appreciate and encourage systems approaches, towards more systemic evaluation and policymaking.

Objectives of TWG

Preliminary (subject to further elaboration by TWG members)

  • The TWG “Systems approaches in Evaluation” will be a collaborative and participatory space to share experiences, practices and lessons learned around the use of systems approaches in evaluation practice in Europe.
  • This TWG will engage with – and further build on – debates, resources and collaborations that have been developed within and outside of the society (such as the long-standing ‘systems’ TIG in the American Evaluation Association) and provide a space for engagement, sharing and collaboration on the development, use and refinement of such approaches in evaluation practice, in Europe.
  • The TWG aims to bring together evaluation practitioners and academics to exchange ideas and experiences.  The TWG will provide an ‘umbrella’ convening space to enable evaluation practitioners within the EES to share experiences, tools, practices and reflections about using systems approaches in evaluation, and by evaluation practitioners.

Specific (subject to further elaboration by TWG members)

 The main objectives of the TWG are to:

  • Create a convening space for evaluation practitioners to come together to exchange information / ideas / experiences about systems approaches applied to, in and for evaluation.
  • Establish and foster contacts and networking exchanges with related professional evaluation associations and networks dealing with systems and complexity approaches applied to evaluation practice (such as ‘sibling’ special interest groups in other regional evaluation associations (AEA (Systems TIG), AES, and others), as well as academic and practitioner networks applying systems approaches in their practice.
  • Reconcile different traditions of understanding of systems approaches in the evaluation community (hard, soft, critical; ontological, epistemological; first-order, second-order; and other distinctions). 
  • Progress further ‘institutionalising’ of systems approaches in evaluation practice, in particular working with evaluation commissioners and evaluators.

Specific Contact Person in the EES Board

May Pettigrew (may.pettigrew@gmail.com)

Current Work Plan
  • In general, it is envisaged to organise a number of online meetings and workshops on topics of interest to the members of the group – reflecting the broad range of interests expressed in the ‘call of expressions of interest’.
  • To come up with a detailed plan, it is proposed to co-create a more concrete work plan together with the supporting members joining this new TWG.
  • Co-creation of a proposal through a participatory process is in keeping with the principles of systems thinking. Proposing a top-down program would run counter to the very principles we aim to further develop. We want to ‘practice what we preach’, also in terms of how we work.
  • The programme of work will be owned by the TWG members, who are committed and invested in its implementation.
  • The plan will reflect the needs and priorities of the members, developed through the co-creation process.
Resources to download
Additional resources for TWG members only
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