SETIG Week: Principles for Effective Use of Systems Thinking in Evaluation: A TIG Milestone by Heather Britt

Hello! I am Heather Britt, 2015-2018 Co-Chair of the Systems in Evaluation TIG (SETIG). This week’s blogs will describe how guiding principles can strengthen systems-informed evaluation practice.

Principles for Effective Use of Systems Thinking in EvaluationThe SETIG is celebrating a major milestone! Through a multi-year collaborative process, members produced the 2018 Principles for Effective Use of Systems Thinking in Evaluation to support evaluators and evaluation stakeholders in the practice of systems-informed evaluation. The SETIG is encouraging members to use the principles in their evaluation practice and share their learning. The SETIG will periodically review and update the principles to reflect new knowledge and experience.

The principles are practical. I have used them to review an evaluation report, clarify evaluation questions in a systems-informed evaluation, and assess the fit of methods to answer those questions. Most profoundly, the principles inform my work building the capacity of organizations and teams to plan, manage, conduct and use M&E for more effective programming (see this Evaluation 2018 presentation, Systems Approaches to Organizational Development).

The principles are the result of a sustained, collective TIG effort. Working together, we deepened our shared knowledge of systems history, concepts and approaches, and their application to evaluation practice. We channeled that shared knowledge to create principles to guide our practice in diverse contexts.

Hot Tip: TIGs can advance the field through collaborative knowledge generation! TIGs can make important contributions to the field by: 1) leveraging member time and talent, 2) building a robust collaboration infrastructure, and 3) engaging the entire leadership – current and emeritus.

Rad Resource: Member knowledge, experience, energy, and inspiration are the TIG’s biggest resources. The trail-blazing work of long-time SETIG members served as a foundation for the principles. Newer members brought fresh perspectives and energy. Both were essential to drafting a useful document informed by theory and practice.

Hot Tip: Structure TIG activities to provide opportunities for different levels of time commitment and different talents. Ensure that all are welcomed and valued – newcomers as well as long-time members.

Cool Trick: A robust collaboration platform is essential for getting things done in a dispersed network of busy professionals. An effective and efficient collaboration platform includes the people, processes and tools required to work together. It eliminates inefficiencies, minimizes volunteer frustration, and makes the most of member time and talent. For the Principles Project, the SETIG leadership team drafted a plan, used guiding principles to steer decision making, convened working groups, updated members, and kept good records throughout. We coordinated and communicated using Google suite, Trello, Zoom, a website, and UnConference software.

Lesson Learned:  Active leaders enable ambitious, multi-year initiatives, such as the Principles Project. Outgoing leaders provide both inspiration and practical support to newly elected chairs. Each new leadership team inherits a vision for the TIG that they can make their own. Past TIG leaders remain active, providing expertise, institutional knowledge, and mentorship.

Get Involved! Join a TIG and get involved. How might you and your colleagues collaborate to advance practice or generate new knowledge?

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating this week with our colleagues in the Systems in Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from SETIG members. 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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