October 2009 saw a seminar in Oxford on the topic of evaluation and complexity, the first in 2 such events planned by Mokoro, a development consultancy. Presentations from the seminar are available from the website, which include an excellent overview from Pip Bevan as well as specific examples of complexity-oriented evaluations.
As the seminar summary states:
Over the past decade or so a number of shifts have occurred, leading to new thinking about and methodological progress in the area of monitoring and evaluation of development aid. The seminar did not aim to unpack all of these trends or explore in depth what is a very vast area, ranging from questions such as “does aid work” to questions such as “did this project – e.g. delivering school management training courses to all head masters in the primary schools of country X – have an impact on the quality of education”, through questions such as “how has the FTI worked thus far and how could it work better for the achievement of the Education For All (EFA) goals, globally and at the country level” or “what have been the effects of twenty years of cooperation between donor country X and recipient country Y”.
More modestly, the aim is to better understand the potential of a number of M&E approaches and designs which seem to have in common the recognition (though this is not always explicit) of the complexity of development. Without entering in the detail of the argument, in Mokoro we believe that what ‘we’ try to change/develop are complex, open and dynamic systems, reproducing and/or evolving along contingent trajectories that is, trajectories influenced but never fully determined by a large number of factors, some of which are intended in the development intervention(s), others not.
For Aid on the Edge readers interested in this area, there is growing body of knowledge on aid evaluation and complexity from meetings and conferences:
- Presentations given at a 2008 NORAD conference ‘Evaluating the Complex‘ – Michael Quinn Paton’s keynoteand my own seminar presentation
- The full report of the July 2009 meeting in London, hosted by Panos, available on the Meetings page
- Details of a forthcoming 2 day conference on Evaluation and Complexity: Evaluation Revisited: Improving the Quality of Evaluative Practice by Embracing Complexity” – May 20-21, 2010, the Netherlands