Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Systems Science and Complexity Science - related but not the same

I'm studying again and for that, I'm reading. A lot. I'm reading about systems thinking and factors that support sustained outcomes of development interventions. Often I stumble on things that make me go: "Ooh - I should remember this next time I do ABC" So this blog is being revived a bit to help keep track of these random thoughts.

I read about the history of systems thinking and complexity science and how both fields have similar challenges. Two great resources:

Midgley and Richardson comparison of paradigms in the Systems Field and the Complexity Field. 



Midgley's reflection on the history of paradigm wars between systems scientists amongst themselves, and complexity scientists amongst themselves. He says: 

Systems scientists were embroiled in a paradigm war, which threatened to fragment the systems research community. This is relevant... because the same paradigms are evident in the complexity science community, and therefore it potentially faces the same risk of fragmentation.

My interest in reading about the relationship between systems science and complexity science got sparked when I looked for examples of emergence, feedback and self-organization in my data and couldn't figure out what that would look like. A colleague suggested that while the concept "feedback" definitely occurs in multiple branches of the systems field (oh and there are so very very many), that the concepts "emergence" and "self-organization" are from complexity science.

One may argue that it probably doesn't matter into which categories these concepts fall, but actually, it does. Because the ontological and epistemological assumptions that underly these paradigms may or may not be similar and should be questioned.

So to get my thinking about the concepts straight, I need to get my thinking about the paradigms straight. Its a work in progress....

Friday, January 27, 2017

Can you tell me "What works in..."

Although we reportedly now live in a post-evidence era, I still choose to cling to the minority view that programmes should be informed by research about what works. But where do you find the evidence?

About two years ago I attended a training course presented by Phil Davies from 3ie. He had many interesting insights to share, but today I was reminded of this excellent list of synthesised evidence that he shared.


One of my recent favourite systematic reviews, conducted by 3ie is The impact of education programmes on learning and school participation in low- and middle-income countries by Snilstveit et al . It has evidence about supplementary education programmes, feeding programmes, ICT in education programmes and a wide range of others. 


Happy Reading!  

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Evaluative Rubrics - Helping you to make sense of your evaluation data

Three times in one week I've now found myself explaining the use of evaluation rubrics to potential evaluation users. I usually start with an example like this, that people can relate to:
When your high school creative writing paper was graded, your teacher most likely gave you an evaluative rubric which specified that you do well if you 1) used good grammar and spelling, 2) structured your arguments well, and 3) found an innovative and interesting angle on your topic. In essence, this rubric helped you to know what is "good" and what is "not good".
In an evaluation, a rubric does exactly the same. What is a good outcome if you judge a post- school science and maths bridging programme? How does the outcomes of "being employed" or  "busy with a third year  B Sc. Degree at university" compare to an outcome like "being a self-employed university drop-out with three registered patents" or to an outcome like "being unemployed and not sure what to do about the future". A rubric can help you to figure this out.

E. Jane Davidson has some excellent resources on rubrics here and here. If you need a rubric on evaluating value for investment, Julian King has a good resource here.  And of course, there is the usual great content on better evaluation here.

I love how Jane describes why we need evaluation rubrics:
Evaluative rubrics make transparent how quality and value are defined and applied. I sometimes refer to rubrics as the antidote to both ‘Rorschach inkblot’ (“You work it out”) and ‘divine judgment’ (“I looked upon it and saw that it was good”)-type evaluations.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Writing Summaries for Evaluation Reports


Last year I attended a course on "Using Evidence for Policy and Practice" presented by Philip Davies from the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation [3ie]. I found his guidelines for what should go into the 1:3:25 summaries most helpful. Here they are:
The full course material is available on the website of the African Evidence Network's Website. Here

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

What I'm up to at the 2015 SAMEA Conference

The SAMEA conference is happening from 12 to 16 October and I'm looking forward to it. 


5thSAMEA Conference LogoSince January, I've had to temporarily downscale my professional involvement in the M&E and Educational networks and I had to neglect this little blog a bit because of a second long term development project I took on in January 2015. The project has lovely brown eyes, an infectious laugh and goes by the name of Clarissa. I'm happy to report that no major clashes with the first development project, (Named Ruan) has so far occurred, but its been a bit of an adjustment to balance work, and volunteering, and life in general. 


So what am I up to  at the conference?
I'll be tweeting from @benitaw if you are interested in my perspective of the conference. I will also attend an IOCE stand at the conference, aiming to promote the VOPE Institutional Capacity Toolkit which my consultancy developed under the EvalPartners leadership of Jennifer Bisgard, Patricia Rogers, Jim Rugh, and Matt Galen. This is an online toolkit full of helpful resources aimed to equip VOPEs (Voluntary Organisations for Professional Evaluation) to become more accountable and more active. 

Then, I'll be teaming up with Cara Waller (from CLEAR) and Donna Podems (from OtherWise) in a session for African VOPEs  on Friday 16th October. This is a ‘world-cafĂ©’ style event, from 10 –11:30am, to be held as a joint ‘Made in Africa’ and ‘Discussing the Professionalisation of Evaluation and Evaluators’ stream session.  The aim of the session is to provide a space for those involved with VOPEs in the region (and those with an interest in strengthening African VOPEs) to come together to discuss current topics around building quality supply and generating demand for evaluation in contextually-specific ways. So please come and chat all things VOPE on the day!

Good luck to my colleague Fazeela Hoosen and the rest of the SAMEA board on hosting this year's conference with the DPME and the PSC. I know (and boy.... do I know) it is very hard work. So thanks in advance for all of the hours you are putting in, to make this event happen.