The following article was reprinted with permission from fsg.org. Find the original article from Oct. 22 here.
Evaluation can be a powerful force for change within organizations. As a result of how we assess our efforts, we pay attention to different areas and invest differently. I assume that those reading this post are the sort of people who would change their approach if they knew, for example, that their strategy for reducing crime led to an increase in crime. This is an important assumption, as we do have systems that yield unintentional inverse results.
The FSG report Evaluating Complexity: Propositions for Improving Practice by Hallie Preskill and Srik Gopal provides important direction for thinking about how to approach evaluation in complex settings. One of the core ideas in the report is that we can’t evaluate complex, non-linear phenomena such as we find in nearly all social change settings using linear, reductive, simplistic measures. If we do, the resulting guidance provided by the measures will at best be useless for building judgement about future decisions, and may actually be harmful, making things worse and masking valuable potential insights.
The ability to improve evaluation of complex dynamics is a critical growth area for social and cultural change leaders.
In studying Evaluating Complexity recently, I found myself pondering how the utility of the core ideas could be extended for initiative partners, funders, and those affected by intervention efforts. While riding the bus one morning the idea of adding 2 additional columns to the “Questions and Skills Supplement” chart came to me.
These skills can be considered at individual and institutional levels. In my experience, it is easier to get people to agree to a need for change than it is to keep them moving when their own limits and discomforts slow down those needed changes. This is also true of organizations. Many people have a difficult time re-interpreting what they know, listening, and un-learning. If we know these skills are required, conversations around these ideas can be more carefully designed into the process of evaluating complexity. This will improve our ability to navigate the resistance together.
While the above additions are initial sketches, I have found them useful in drawing me back into consideration of the core propositions for evaluating complexity. The “Questions and Skills Supplement” provides evaluators and service delivery teams and leaders additional leverage points for moving the assessment process into more fruitful terrain. There are doubtless other considerations that could build on the great start that the FSG Evaluating Complexity proposal makes.
“Questions and Skills Supplement” with 2 new additions.
What other key considerations would you add when thinking about evaluating complexity?
Milton Friesen is the Program Director of Social Cities and a Senior Fellow at Cardus, a public policy think tank. He is nearing completion of a Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo, School of Planning.