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Evaluation has been dominated by linear, closed-system thinking.  Such thinking reduces the usefulness of evaluation for social innovators working to change dysfunctional and ineffective systems.  Evaluating program implementation and outcomes is a completely different task from evaluating complex systems change.  The units of analysis and methodological challenges are different.  Evaluation in complex dynamic systems requires openness, flexibility, nimbleness, and genuine systems thinking.  Complexity concepts have important implications for evaluation designs, methods, analysis, and recommendations.  Using concrete and real world examples, this presentation will look at the implications for evaluation of complexity concepts like emergence, nonlinearity, adaptation, dynamic interactions, uncertainty, co-evolution, and systems interdependencies.  

For more information about Michael Quinn Patton, see his resumed curriculum vitae [PDF].


Achieving good outcomes in the social sector-working with clients in the health, education, justice, or other arenas-is a complex undertaking. First, this sector involves the general public, authorities and, often the intended beneficiaries of services, in decisionmaking processes that have impacts on both policy and practice. Second, policy and practice decisions are often made at multiple jurisdictional levels; from national to state to local. Third, positive social outcomes are dependent not only on what happens when working directly with intended beneficiaries, but also on conditions, policies, and actions in the broader society. Finally, answers about what "should" to be done to improve outcomes in social sectors are often complex, hard to find, or nonexistent. Drawing on issues in education, public health, and urban development this presentation will suggest ways that evaluators can provide support to manage the complex systems in which they operate. It will draw examples of initiatives in the United States that have engaged evaluators in providing services, research, and data in   ways that are most helpful in pursuing effective improvement efforts.

For more information about Steve Fleischman, see his full curriculum vitae [PDF].