International Evaluation Academy (IEA) Week: Transformation: the Quest for an Operational Concept by Christina Magro

Cristina Magro

I am Cristina Magro, an IEAc Council Member at the Transformational Evaluation Working Group. Until 2004, I was a professor at UFMG, Brazil, teaching linguistics and working transdisciplinarily to understand the relation between language, cognition and culture, ultimately between humans and what is called “reality” – a relevant question when living at the edge of a ‘no-future’. Intriguing issues led me to systems thinking, rooted in Humberto Maturana’s work, a useful tool to face the challenges we are experimenting.

Engaged in conversations that bring about transformation, I seek to understand what my interlocutors talk about – which domain are they referring to? What ‘theory of the world’ is implied? What is the aspired power of the evaluators’ work? What is transformation?

Often transformation denotes enduring major changes that bring modifications in ‘all that is there’, beyond piecemeal fixes and incremental changes – independently of the domains of interest, which are frequently mixed. For example, when referring to the field of evaluation, transformation floats between indistinct domains, from changes evaluators would need to promote in their field of work (theories, epistemologies, criteria, focuses, protocols, etc) to observed situations in evaluative experiences.

Magro, Van den Berg and Adrien (2021) propose transformation to be understood in systems terms as changes that, although triggered locally, activate changes in interacting systems of the same or other domains. These changes are to be understood as dynamic, historical, a function of the interaction between systems, including ‘the context’, through components of their structures.

This operational definition is an abstraction and fits either domain: the field of evaluation (theory and practice) and “the world we want to change”, provided that the structures and dynamics of the systems are distinguished and described in their own terms. The adoption of systems thinking would support and promote transformational changes in evaluation, with tools that would redefine and let emerge observations not allowed by traditional scientific paradigms. The proposed decolonization of evaluation can potentially be a transformational agent to sponsor a major change in the evaluation scenario. Gender and environment focused evaluations have the same potential, and so on and so forth. A unique requirement is that they be sustained by a scientific paradigm that allows for the observation of complex historical events and interactions.

In the domain of “the world to be changed”, to note interdependencies between gender and environment, climate change and the pandemic, economy and climate change, etc, remarkably supported by the SDGs, are crucial for what evaluation for transformation can do to support and promote sustainably the changes claimed for. A sharp understanding of the systems involved, of their structures, behavior and paths of changes is necessary and worthwhile if evaluation is to accomplish the desired mission.

A terminological agreement is urgent and would be decisive to support the scientific development of evaluation, a task IEAc is well equipped to accomplish.

Rad Resources

Lessons Learned

  • When engaging in systems thinking, realize that it is a paradigm in itself, which poses crucial changes in the way of understanding and operating in the world with others.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting International Evaluation Academy (IEA) Week. The contributions to AEA365 this week are all related to this theme. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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