Journal Article


Towards Systemic Approaches to Evaluation and Impact

Published on 6 January 2015

This IDS Bulletin explores new frontiers in international development evaluation, making a useful contribution to an ongoing debate about how to assess effects and effectiveness without ignoring the complexity of the contemporary development landscape.

Bringing together two themes – impact of development interventions and implications of development within complex systems and settings – this issue gives prominence to both systems thinking and complexity science, two perspectives increasingly drawn on by evaluators. This is the second of two IDS Bulletins (the first one was Rethinking Impact Evaluation for Development) following a workshop entitled Impact, Innovation and Learning: Towards a Research and Practice Agenda for the Future, held in March 2013 at IDS.

Straightened budgets and accountability-driven demands to demonstrate the effectiveness of public expenditure have led to the emphasis on impact evaluations. Policymakers are interested in ‘evidence-based policy’, while also judging the effectiveness of specific interventions, though achieving clarity and measurement of policy impacts is challenging. Systems thinking and complexity science draw on diverse roots (epistemological/technological/mathematical) and are new to development evaluation (which has traditionally favoured linear frameworks). This issue offers a view of how complexity and systems thinking could inform impact evaluation (though further research is needed to engage more fully with the conceptual and methodological possibilities that this area of work holds for evaluation).

These two issues of the IDS Bulletin represent a useful step in the right direction of incorporating systems and complexity ideas into the impact evaluator’s toolkit. Their methods and agendas should stimulate insightful, conceptually sophisticated as well as practice-grounded debate.

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Table of contents

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Introduction – Towards Systemic Approaches to Evaluation and Impact Barbara Befani, Ben Ramalingam and Elliot Stern

Prosaic or Profound? The Adoption of Systems Ideas by Impact Evaluation Bob Williams

Learning, Systems Concepts and Values in Evaluation: Proposal for an Exploratory Framework to Improve Coherence Richard Hummelbrunner

Going Beyond Mixed Methods to Mixed Approaches: A Systems Perspective for Asking the Right Questions Jeneen R. Garcia and Aaron Zazueta

Systems Dynamics Modelling in Industrial Development Evaluation Sebastian Derwisch and Peter Löwe

Aiming for Utility in ‘Systems-based Evaluation’: A Research-based Framework for Practitioners John T. Grove

(Breaking) The Iron Triangle of Evaluation Martin Reynolds

Publication details

published by
Befani, B., Ramalingam, B. and Stern, E.
IDS Bulletin, volume 46, issue 1


About this publication

Programmes and centres
Centre for Development Impact

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